“I didn’t take something away; I gave myself life.”
These are the words of Irish author Emma Hannigan, who took the same course of action as Angelina Jolie in 2007 after it was confirmed she was carrying the breast cancer gene.
Speaking on Newstalk yesterday in the aftermath of the Hollywood star’s revelation that she has undergone a double mastectomy, Ms Hannigan said she understood why Ms Jolie felt “empowered” by the decision.
In the Irish writer’s view, choosing to allow such an extreme surgery in order to reduce the risk of breast cancer was like removing a “ticking timebomb” threatening her life.
“I know this sounds very strange to a lot of people, but it wasn’t a difficult decision for me.
“The odds [of developing breast cancer] were very high, I have several small children, and several of my family had died from the disease.
“So I knew it was the way I could make myself safe, and that’s why I did it with ease of mind. I know Angelina Jolie has written that she felt empowered by what she did, and that’s how I felt.”
Unlike the Hollywood actress, the Bray-based writer chose to also allow her ovaries and fallopian tubes to be removed in order to further reduce the chances of cancer.
Even though the step was extreme, she said ultimately the only part of her she felt has been removed was the “danger” posed by the genetic marker.
“The only part that I ever felt had been removed was the danger.
“I felt like a ticking timebomb [before the procedure].
“The way I look at it, I have eradicated the danger and I know if I didn’t take preventative action... I didn’t take something away; I gave myself life.”
While Ms Hannigan took the decision to remove the risk of breast cancer, she stressed that just because someone is carrying the gene involved does not necessarily mean they are doomed to face a difficult decision.
The author said she found out about her likely condition after another relative underwent genetic testing.
However, other relatives chose not to tackle the risk without suffering any negative impact on their lives. “My grandmother died of old age. My mother is a gene carrier and she’s fine. So this is not about frightening people, it’s about empowering yourself and to let women know that it’s okay to talk about these things.
“People do survive, and just because one person in the family has breast cancer doesn’t mean you will too.”
lEmma Hannigan currently lives in Bray, Co Wicklow, with her husband Cian, son Sacha, and daughter Kim. Her novels include Designer Genes, Miss Conceived, The Pink Ladies Club, Keeping Mum, and Driving Home for Christmas. Her memoir, Talk to the Headscarf, details her battle with cancer. www.emmahannigan.com
Hollywood star Angelina Jolie is not the first high-profile woman to bravely undergo a double mastectomy in a bid to avoid breast cancer.
Reality TV star Sharon Osbourne, singer Michelle Heaton, and E! Entertainment presenter Giuliana Rancic have also confirmed receiving the rare treatment.
Newcastle-born Ms Heaton, the 33-year-old former Liberty X band member who is now living in Dublin, revealed her own situation in an emotional interview on a recent Late Late Show appearance.
The singer, who has also found fame as a reality TV star, underwent the invasive double mastectomy procedure late last year to prevent the future risk of breast cancer, after being diagnosed with the BRCA2 gene.
Sharon Osbourne, the high-profile wife of notorious rocker Ozzy Osbourne, also underwent the treatment — describing her decision to prevent breast cancer as a “no brainer”.
“I want to be around for a long time and be a grandmother to Pearl [her son Jack’s baby daughter].
“It’s not ‘pity me’. It’s a decision I made that’s got rid of this weight I was carrying around. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life with that shadow hanging over me,” she said.
The issue also gained further attention on the other side of the Atlantic, with Ms Rancic having a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011.
She has since made a full recovery.
— Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
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