About Me

Clarissa Foster B.Sc.Hons. Human Biology, PGCE
My name is Clarissa Foster and I carry a BRCA2 gene mutation.

.. I live with my husband, James, and my two beautiful children, Isabelle and Ben.
In 1994, my mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 44 years. There were no other family members with a history of cancer. During this time, I was studying Advanced-level Biology, Psychology and French and in 1996, I started a degree in Human Biology at Loughborough University. My mum continued to battle cancer throughout this time, but lost her battle in the Summer of 1998. Shortly afterwards, I returned for my final year and graduated with a B.Sc.Hons. Human Biology in July,1999.

A few years later, I returned to university to study for a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in Human Biology (Further Education) at Nottingham Trent University. I graduated with a Distinction in July 2003. I am qualified to teach Advanced-level Biology, although I have experience of teaching both AS/A-level Biology and GCSE Biology.
During my final year at Loughborough University, I studied the Genetics of Cancer and became aware that harmful mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes mean that a woman's lifetime risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer is greatly increased.


Over the years, I had discussed with various GPs the possibility of being tested for a BRCA1/BRCA2 mutation as I suspected my mum might have carried a harmful mutation.
However, I was not eligible for testing under the current National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines as there has only been one relative with cancer within my family. For more information on NICE Guidelines, please go to Familial breast cancer: Classification and care of people at risk of familial breast cancer and management of breast cancer and related risks in people with a family history of breast cancer;
NICE (Mar 2017)

I made the decision, therefore, to pay privately for this testing around the age of 40 as it is at this age that an increase in the numbers of these cancers is seen. However, in September 2012, when I was 34 years old, I was informed that my sister had pursued testing privately and had been found to carry a harmful BRCA2 mutation. This meant that I had a 50:50 chance of also being a carrier. My GP then referred me to a Geneticist who explored my family history and my personal reasons for wanting to receive testing. At the end of this first meeting, the blood sample was taken.

Four weeks later, in March 2013, I was informed that I carry a harmful BRCA2 gene mutation c.5130-5133delTGTA, referred to in the literature as 5358del4. Statistics given to me by my Geneticist stated that I have approximately a 45-85% lifetime risk of breast cancer and 10-30% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer, along with a very slightly increased risk of pancreatic cancer and melanoma (cancer of the skin). Please see the BRCA Statistics page of this website for more detailed information.

Finding out I carried this harmful mutation was tough, but I had considered this possibility since I was a teenager and I, therefore, had time to prepare myself. Also, being a human biologist helped me to approach my journey in a logical manner and aided my understanding of the scientific literature.
..


One thing I have continued to remind myself of is how incredibly lucky I am to be aware that I carry a harmful mutation. A few weeks after finding out I was a carrier, Angelina Jolie bravely shared with the world her decision to undergo a risk-reducing mastectomy, due a mutation in her BRCA1 gene.

Over the course of the next few months, I met with several consultants to consider my options. I underwent screening which included an MRI of my breasts, a pelvic ultrasound scan and a CA-125 blood test. All screening suggested I was in good health, however, my consultant warned that screening for ovarian cancer was ineffective. The gynaecology and breast consultants I saw strongly advised that I underwent both a risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy and bilateral mastectomy.

However, I did not take this decision lightly. I read the findings of many studies conducted globally and I met with several consultants to gain as many opinions as possible before deciding on what I felt was the right option for me.

.. Please see the Managing Your Risk page of this website for more information.
In November 2013, I underwent a risk-reducing bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes) which resulted in a surgically-induced menopause. Both my gynaecologist and breast surgeon recommended not starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT) until after the mastectomy, as recent evidence suggests an increased risk of breast cancer even within the first year of taking HRT. Three months later, in February 2014, I underwent a bilateral, nipple-sparing mastectomy, with immediate reconstruction with implants and 2 weeks after surgery, my surgeon advised I started HRT.

I have learnt a huge amount from reading the literature and my first-hand experience of undergoing both risk-reducing surgeries. I would like to use this experience to help other women (and men) who carry a BRCA gene mutation.

If you have any questions at all, please contact me at
clarissa@understandingbrca.co.uk