A TEACHER who had a double mastectomy to ensure her children “had their mum around” today spoke about her determination to live life to the full.
Julia Burke praised Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie who this week revealed she had underwent the procedure after doctors estimated she had an 87 per cent risk of breast cancer.
Julia, 50, an English and RE teacher at St Robert of Newminster School, has spent seven years fighting back, determined she would not be beaten by the disease.
On November 29, 2005, the mum-of-two discovered a lump in her left breast. Less than two weeks later she was diagnosed with cancer, classed as grade-four, aggressive.
Julia, married to John, 48, underwent a mastectomy, followed by eight months of chemotherapy at Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
She said: “Because my cancer was oestrogen related, I also had to have my ovaries removed.”
Determined the cancer would not return, Julia spoke to her surgeon about having her healthy right breast removed.
“He told me to go away and think about it. He felt it was too close to the first operation. But I knew what I wanted to do.
“I knew my kids didn’t care if I had boobs or not but they did care their mum was around to see them grow up.”
So, in 2007, surgeons removed Julia’s right breast. “I did think about having the reconstructive surgery and coming back looking like Jordan but I couldn’t be bothered hauling those huge things around,” joked Julia. “I have prosthesis which I chose with my husband – it felt odd the two of us standing there, shopping for breasts.”
Finally, in June last year, Julia, of Washington Village, was signed off by her consultant.
“Cancer has been a tough journey and I know I wouldn’t have got through it without my faith and the support of all the people around me; family, friends, doctors, people in the community,” added Julia.
Mum to Joe and Kate, Julia says she has been impressed by Jolie’s decision to speak out.
“I do think it’s important people talk about this because it can save lives,” she adds. “But, equally, talking about it is not for everyone.”
In an article published in the New York Times, Ms Jolie, 37, explained that her mother fought cancer for a decade and died at the age of 56.
She then decided to undergo the complex surgery.
Risk that can run in family
•About one in five women diagnosed with breast cancer will have a significant family history of the disease.
•Having close family members – first-degree relatives like a sister, mother, aunt or uncle – with breast cancer raises a woman’s own risk.
•Certain genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 are strongly linked with breast cancer and can be detected with genetic tests.
•Women carrying the BRCA1 mutation have up to a 65 per cent chance of developing breast cancer by the time they are 70.
•Less than one per cent of women are at high risk of developing breast cancer.
•Another two per cent of women deemed to be at moderate risk may also benefit from taking preventive breast cancer drugs for five years, say experts.