I Battled Breast Cancer-So Did My Dad; Close Bond: John and Gina, above on Her Wedding Day, Have Always Had a Good Relationship but It's Even Stronger Now

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), September 23, 2007 | Go to article overview

I Battled Breast Cancer-So Did My Dad; Close Bond: John and Gina, above on Her Wedding Day, Have Always Had a Good Relationship but It's Even Stronger Now


Byline: BONNIE ESTRIDGE

When Gina Symmons makes her welcome speech to the guests at the Pink IceBall next month it will be with a much lighter heart than at last year's event.As organiser of the ball - which last year raised [pounds sterling]100,000 for Cancer ResearchUK - Gina is used to talking about her own experiences of breast cancer, whichshe developed almost ten years ago.

But last year she had found it impossible to hold back the tears; incrediblyher father John had just finished chemotherapy to treat the same disease.

Now both father and daughter are in remission and keen to raise awareness ofthe disease in men. Although uncommon, they feel that the statistic of one manfor every 140 women diagnosed is not what they would describe as rare.

Gina had always known that breast cancer was in her family. John's motherPauline had died of the disease when she was 42, his sister Annie also had itwhen she was 39, but has survived.

So when Gina found a lump in her breast when she was six months pregnant withPoppy in 1998 she was worried, but decided to wait until she had given birthbefore going to the doctor.

'I didn't want to be in a terrible predicament where I might be told I neededurgent treatment that could harm my baby.

'The wonderful experience my pregnancy should have been was marred by fear ofwhether Poppy could be harmed if I had cancer because I was carrying her. I wasunder a lot of stress which made me worry whether that would affect her, too.'But all went smoothly and at her six-week postnatal checkup,Gina told herobstetrician about the lump. He sent her for tests but the results werenegative.

'The doctor thought it must be an infection and put me on antibiotics. But whenI went back a week later, nothing had changed and he referred me to breastspecialist Nigel Sacks at the Lister Hospital in Chelsea.

'Mr Sacks did more tests which still came back negative, but he wouldn't giveup and decided to remove the lump and have it biopsied. In doing so, he savedmy life.

'When I went back three weeks later I had Louis and Poppy with me. I wasn'texpecting bad news as the previous tests had been clear, but it was dreadful -a grade three fast-growing tumour and my doctor couldn't tell whether it hadspread.

'I was desperately trying to be brave for the children's sake, but feelingutterly distraught inside. Once I got home to Guy, I broke down completely.

'Thankfully, the cancer hadn't spread. I had five months of chemotherapy,thenradiotherapy every day for six weeks.I lost my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows,but tried hard to keep life as normal as possible for Guy and the children.'Gina says her father - who had been divorced from her mother Shirley since shewas 27 - found it very difficult to cope emotionally because of memories of hismother and the implications that he feared for his daughter. 'Dad couldn't talkabout it, but he did comment that he hadn't realised how good the treatment wasthese days. I'm glad that he'd taken that on board because perhaps the thoughthelped when he was diagnosed.' Once her treatment was over, Gina wanted toraise money for Cancer Research UK. In 2001 she organised the first Pink IceBall at London's Grosvenor House Hotel and has done so every year since.

But after finding two early-stage tumours over the following two years, herspecialist was worried enough to suggest a double mastectomy to prevent moreproblems.

'It was an easy decision to make - my life was far more important than mybreasts. I was glad to get rid of those breasts. By then they felt likesomething dirty.' Gina had an immediate reconstruction but, apart from havingopted to have her ovaries removed as a further precaution, she has not neededfurther treatment.

Bouncing back quickly from surgery, she felt that she could really get on withher life. …

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