I had a double mastectomy so I'd live to see my son grow up: After Sharon Osborne reveals her drastic surgery, Tracey tells her storyTracey Barraclough was in her late 30s when she became convinced that she was a 'walking health time bomb'Her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother had all been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 52
03:00 GMT, 6 November 2012
Tracey Barraclough and her son Josh pictured in 1999
When I read Sharon Osbourne recently chose to have both her healthy breasts removed, it took me back to the decision I made 12 years ago to have the same operation.
On the surface, everything in my life looked rosy. I was in my late 30s, working as a PA in Leeds and living with my husband, Stephen, a printer, and raising our beloved son, Josh.
But inside I was a walking health time bomb. I was utterly convinced I was living on borrowed time, because my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother had all been diagnosed with cancer in their ovaries or breasts at the age of 52. Each of them had died as a result.
Every time I looked at the little boy I had given birth to in 1995, I shuddered to think I might not be here to see him grow up and become a father himself.
As time passed, the advice my dear mother Joan had given to me soon after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1989 began to dominate my thoughts.
Over and again, she had begged me to get my ovaries removed.
A brave and indomitable woman, she lived for six years instead of the six months predicted by doctors at diagnosis.
And, as she lay on her deathbed, her concern, as ever, was only for me.
‘Tracey,’ she pleaded. ‘Please don’t keep your ovaries.’
As she was the third generation to be diagnosed at exactly the age of 52, she was convinced cancer ran in our family. In 1994, two years before she died, as news about the BRCA1 gene (which gives a much increased cancer risk) emerged, she and I went for tests with a geneticist.
Mum knew any breakthroughs doctors found would not alter her own fate, but she hoped and prayed they would help me and, ultimately, save my life.
We went to St James’s University Hospital, Leeds, for a discussion about genetic testing. Scientists were very close to identifying the gene but were not quite there yet.
Tracey pictured at home in 2002
Mum gave samples of her blood to be used in the future — we all knew she would be dead by the time the gene had been pinpointed.
Ten months after her death on Boxing Day, 1996, I received a letter from the hospital saying Mum had tested positive for the BRCA1 gene and that I could be tested if I so wished.
They called me in April 1998 and I was tested for the first time.
As I nervously faced the geneticist at Jimmy’s, he told me what I instinctively already knew — that at the age of 38 I had a 60 per cent chance of getting ovarian cancer and an 85 per cent chance of breast cancer. If you have the gene and the familial link, then you have an 85 per cent chance of developing breast cancer.
Tracey pictured on her web page
My grandmother had breast cancer first and ovarian as a secondary.
The latter is known as the silent killer, as it is usually too advanced before any major symptoms — such as a bloated stomach — are obvious.
I did not have too many problems accepting that I needed to have a full hysterectomy.
This disease had killed my mother and I was glad to get rid of the shadow of death which was hanging over me. The alternative of undergoing constant monitoring did not appeal to me at all.
Even though the odds on my getting breast cancer were higher, I chose to have my ovaries out in August 1998, probably because it had killed so many women in my family. I felt incredibly relieved afterwards — as if I had guaranteed my future.
But as my 40th birthday approached in March 2000, I had to address the issue of a mastectomy. I’d tried to shut my mind off from dealing with it — but I had no choice.
Even though doctors had never insisted I should have my breasts removed, the statistics spoke for themselves. Keeping my breasts would be hugely high risk.
It was like playing a lottery of life or death and the odds on surviving without an operation were just too slim.
Still, the prospect of having two healthy breasts amputated was utterly agonising.
I had always taken care of my appearance, enjoying running and keeping fit. Having my breasts removed seemed to equate with losing my femininity.
It was hard to come to terms with the fact that while I looked so fit on the outside, I could have been carrying a killer on the inside, but I couldn’t ignore the bleak statistics, my family history — or my young son then aged just five.
I did not want him to grow up without a mum or see me suffer as I had my own mother. I wanted to see Josh grow up, and to enjoy his grandchildren.
And I am sure Sharon Osbourne must have been thinking the same thoughts about her own family when she opted to have both her breasts removed.
Tracey and son Josh pictured in 1999 when he was aged just four
I also wanted to live beyond my 50s — and owed it to my family to do it for them.
In July 2000, three months after my 40th birthday, I had the four-hour operation at Manchester’s Withington Hospital.
After the surgery, I immediately had implants fitted so I wouldn’t look too different.
I told Josh that I was having the operation so that I wouldn’t get ill in the future.
Tracey pictured with her son Josh now
Stephen was with me as I was treated, but the whole trauma put immense pressure on our marriage and, a year to the date of my mastectomy, we split up.
Stephen, who is 12 years younger than me, had clearly been very scared and I don’t think he had the maturity to deal with what was happening.
I felt let down by Stephen, which made it harder to recover. He did his best within his capabilities, but I felt rejected when he wouldn’t look at my new breasts.
That was extremely difficult to deal with and knocked my confidence terribly,
Slowly, I began rebuilding my life and self-esteem. I have, over the years, had several relationships.
One or two men were uncomfortable with my breasts, so I didn’t pursue the relationships. I am now totally confident showing my body because it makes me realise that I have defied death.
As my 40s progressed, I made major changes to my life — swapping my office job to train as a hypnotherapist and inspirational speaker. At the age of 48, I even started to run marathons.
I am now 52, the same age when my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother died or were diagnosed with cancer. I fleetingly think about that, but I focus on living.
I hope by undergoing the radical surgeries, I have fulfilled my promises to my family — and it also means their deaths were not in vain.
What a gift that is to me — and to Josh — who is now studying sports coaching at colleges.
For more information on Tracey, see www.tracey barraclough.org.uk.