Dudley cancer survivor's call to rescue research

A Dudley cancer patient, who opted to have both breasts removed after undergoing treatment for a hereditary form of breast cancer, is appealing for donations to help Cancer Research UK tackle a devastating loss of research funding caused by COVID-19. 

Carla Roberts, aged 54, says Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Chat forum got her through the ‘down days’ of lonely breast cancer treatment during the pandemic. She even hopes to meet face to face with fellow chat users from across the UK when life returns to normal.

With fundraising down and lockdowns across the UK continuing to affect its shops, Carla has vowed to help the charity which helped save her life continue its vital mission.

Carla, who had chemotherapy and then opted for a double mastectomy after genetic testing showed she had the BRCA1 gene mutation, is alive thanks in part to the work of Cancer Research UK. The charity played an important role in the discovery of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Faults in these genes increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Carla’s mother, 74-year-old Carol, had breast cancer at the age of 41 and has since tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation. Carla’s 19-year-old daughter, Annabel, is awaiting genetic testing to see if she too has the mutation, as there may be steps she can take to reduce her risk of breast cancer. Carla has now finished her treatment and is slowly getting back to her passion for horse-riding. Her experience has made her determined to help protect other people with cancer from the heart-breaking fall-out of the pandemic.

Cancer Research UK is expecting a staggering £160 million drop in income this year, which is putting future breakthroughs at risk for people like Carla and her daughter. The charity has already had to make the difficult decision to cut £44 million in research, but this is likely to be just the beginning.

Carla is sharing her story to compliment Cancer Research UK’s latest TV appeal, which features a direct plea for donations from leading scientist, Professor Richard Gilbertson.

The message in the film is clear – to save lives tomorrow, the charity needs the public’s support today.

Carla, who works as a manager for the Department of Work and Pensions, is urging people across the Midlands to act now in the run up to Christmas. She considers herself extremely lucky to have been diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2019 after being given extra mammograms as part of a genetic screening programme, due to her family history of the disease. 

Carla was diagnosed with ‘triple negative’ breast cancer, meaning some hormonal therapies and targeted cancer drugs don’t work. After an intensive course of chemotherapy, finishing in January 2020, Carla found out she had the BRCA1 mutation. She said:

“As soon as I knew I had the faulty gene I just wanted both breasts gone. I opted for a double mastectomy as I wanted to be sure it couldn’t come back. The doctors also decided to give me a course of radiotherapy after the operation.

“I find the best way to deal with it is to keep myself busy, so I returned to work as soon as I could and kept up walking with my dog, as well as looking after my horses. I had to stop riding for a while, but I’m just getting back to it now I’m starting to feel more normal again.

“I do have days when I feel less positive, and it was when I was feeling down that I discovered Cancer Chat. A thread on the chat, for women who’ve had triple negative breast cancer, has been absolutely fantastic for me during lockdown.

"I feel I’ve really got to know the people on there and it always lifts my spirits. We’re hoping we may get to meet up once Covid-19 is out of the way!”

Carla is now looking forward to an extra special Christmas with her mum, Carol, dad Ken and daughter Annabel – as well as her dog and horses. She added:

“My experience means I understand the importance of Cancer Research UK’s work all too clearly. If I had been diagnosed with cancer ten years ago, the outcome might not have been the same for me – and that’s down to research.

“Research means that Annabel may be able to take steps to reduce her own risk of breast cancer. So, it’s distressing to think that progress that could help more people like us survive cancer in the future is being delayed because of the effects of the pandemic.

“I hope that people across the Midlands will be inspired by the charity’s determination to carry on beating cancer and give what they can. They could give hope to families like mine and that’s what Christmas is all about.”

Cancer Research UK’s work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has been at the heart of the progress that has seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years. Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, the charity currently funds around 50% of all publicly funded cancer research in the UK and is the only UK charity fighting more than 200 types of cancer.  

Before the pandemic, Cancer Research UK was able to spend over £10 million in the West Midlands last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research. You can now at cruk.org/give.


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