We inherited many things from Mum: long legs, great hair… and unfortunately, a deadly cancer gene – Former beauty queen Jade Power reveals how she and her sisters have been scarred in different ways from a fearful diagnosis
- Former beauty queen Jade Power, from Sussex, explains that her and her two sisters inherited a deadly cancer gene from their mother
- READ MORE: Gene tests for cancer and heart disease could signal start of healthcare revolution to boost people’s wellbeing, researchers say
To be a model you first have to win the genetic lottery, Jade Power acknowledges. The former beauty queen has had a successful career thanks largely to her 5ft 10in frame, endless legs, show-stopping hair and DD bust.
‘My mum did pass on some great things to me. I was definitely blessed,’ jokes Jade, 29.
Her two older sisters, Donna and Claire, didn’t get the height, but they, too, got the shapely figures and great hair. ‘The hair was our thing,’ nods Donna, 40, the middle sister.
Note the use of ‘was’. For in the past two years the sisters, from Sussex, have been learning some harsh lessons about that genetic lottery. Today, Donna is wearing a wig, the legacy of chemotherapy so brutal she thought she was going to die.
Power sisters battle cancer: Lingerie model Jade Power (centre) with her sisters Donna (left) and Claire (right).Donna has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Lingerie model Jade has the cancer gene and has opted for a double mastectomy even though she is healthy. Claire is cancer free and does not have the gene but is racked with guilt
Jade’s glorious bust? It’s no longer the real deal, but a reconstruction completed after she had both breasts removed. Vivid scars run across her chest.
On talking to them you quickly realise all three sisters have been scarred, in very different ways, by a genetic quirk which came to light only after Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020.
Genetic testing revealed she was carrying a gene called PALB2, which increases the chance of developing breast cancer (and, to a lesser extent ovarian cancer). If she had the gene, doctors explained, there was a 50/50 chance her siblings would have it, too.
And so as Donna recovered from surgery (in the form of a lumpectomy) and chemotherapy, the other female members of her family were submitting to genetic tests. Jade likens it to ‘a horrible game of roulette’.
Their mum was found to be a carrier although she has never developed breast cancer; Claire, the eldest at 44, was negative.
But Jade, the baby of the family, was given the devastating news that she had a 71pc chance of developing breast cancer.
‘With odds like that, in my mind it was a case of “when” I would get it rather than “if”,’ she says now.
Overnight, Jade says her relationship with her breasts changed.
‘I always thought mine were my best assets,’ she says. ‘They got me swimwear work, too. But the minute I was told I had the gene, I looked in the mirror and I didn’t see nice breasts — I saw these things that were going to kill me.
‘I had no doubts what I had to do. Any other concerns just didn’t compare.’ For any woman, choosing to have healthy breasts removed is an enormous call.
For a professional model? ‘It was a huge decision,’ says Jade. A former professional showjumper, she had travelled the world for her job, working as the face of outdoor clothing company Musto. Her modelling assignments had taken her from Monte Carlo to the Far East, and she graced the catwalk during London Fashion Week. ‘But worries about the impact on modelling pale into insignificance compared with fears about my life and health.’
So last year, Jade — by then a new mother to baby Zander — underwent a double mastectomy, removing healthy breasts ‘before they had a chance to be a threat to my life and leave my son without a mother’.
This week she was in the news vowing to return to modelling, even the lingerie side of the business, to show ‘that women can still be sexy even after a mastectomy’.
Her great inspiration is Hollywood actress and activist Angelina Jolie, who changed the narrative around elective mastectomies after she discovered she was carrying the more common BRCA1 gene and had a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.
Now the sisters have launched a campaign calling for more awareness of genetic mutations linked to breast cancer, and access to genetic testing.
Jade accurately describes their family story as ‘quite a hard one to get your head around’.
‘It’s a bit of a crazy situation because, while it’s Donna who’s had cancer, I’m the one who has had the double mastectomy,’ she explains.
Nurse preparing patient for mammogram at x-ray machine in hospital. Former beauty queen Jade Power, from Sussex, explains that her and her two sisters inherited a deadly cancer gene from their mother
‘She’s lost her hair and is going through a chemically induced menopause because of her cancer treatment. Yet I was the one who was offered IVF and embryo screening if I wanted to get pregnant — to ensure the gene wasn’t passed on.’
The three sisters — clearly all very close — perfectly illustrate the havoc a genetic mutation can wreak in a family.
It may seem that Claire has ‘escaped’. Not so.
‘I was the one who got the news I wasn’t a carrier, but how could I celebrate? How could I say to my sisters: “Well, it’s good news for me!”’ she says. ‘There’s a huge amount of guilt, watching them go through what they have.’
Their mum, too, has felt guilty. ‘She was devastated knowing she’d passed it on,’ says Donna.
Scientists discovered the PALB2 gene only in 2006, so little is known about it. However, they do know that it can be carried by men, too.
Donna had to write to her extended family members — about ten in all — gently explaining that they might want to consider tests.
‘We have a brother but he chose not to be tested because he has a son,’ she says. ‘If he had a daughter I think it would have been different.
‘We told all our cousins — even the distant ones. The ripples are something you just never consider …until you have to.’
It was in 2020 that the thunderbolt hit. Donna, then single and a healthcare business consultant, found a lump in her breast and immediately made an appointment at a private clinic for a scan.
‘I had private health insurance and I just thought: “Let’s get this looked at immediately.” I thought I might be over-reacting.’
The face of the lady who did the scan told her she wasn’t.
‘She said there and then that she was pretty sure it was breast cancer, but I’d have to have a formal diagnosis. I went back to my parents’ house, and we all cried.’
That was on a Friday and by the Monday Donna had undergone a biopsy and was on the route to surgery and chemotherapy. She moved back in with her parents during her treatment.
Claire, who was also single and running her own marketing company, did the same. The whole family rallied. Dad Tyrone drove Donna to her hospital appointments and waited while she had chemo; mum Gloria and Claire did the bulk of the nursing at home.
‘It was hellish,’ Donna remembers. ‘The chemo hit me badly. I was very sick and weak. They had to reduce the dosage, but there were moments when we really didn’t think I was going to make it.’
When someone in their 30s is diagnosed with breast cancer, family history becomes hugely important.
They discovered, only then, that their mother’s sister had died from breast cancer at 41, while another aunt had died from ovarian cancer.
Donna asked for genetic testing, but ‘I still didn’t expect anything significant to come back’.
When it did, she was floored. ‘I remember having to tell my sisters: “I am so, so sorry but there is a 50per cent chance that you could have this gene, too.” ’
Their mum’s blood test results were the first to come back — and they were positive.
‘This meant we knew the issue was on her side of the family,’ Donna explains. ‘She was racked with guilt. It was just the luck of the draw that she hadn’t developed cancer.
‘She’s 64 now, so she’s still at high risk. They always say it is a “lifetime risk”.’ Her daughters, Jade and Claire, were next. Claire’s result was negative, Jade’s positive.
‘Just my luck!’ Jade half-jokes. ‘I knew it would be. Donna and I have always been so similar — apart from the height.’
When Donna was diagnosed, her treatment options were straightforward and driven by the immediate need to save her life. Jade, however, had a very different decision to make.
‘There were two options: surveillance, meaning six-monthly mammograms and scans, or I could go for the preventative option of having both my breasts removed.’
What a choice. But the right course of action quickly became clear to Jade.
‘Every time I looked at my breasts, I thought “timebomb”,’ she says. ‘I think having seen Donna go through what she suffered was a factor. I remember thinking: “I could not do that. I do not want to give any cancer a chance to develop at all.” Screening is great for some people, but what if the first signs of a cancer manifest the day after you’ve had a scan? By the time you find it, you are already down the path.’
There was another complication. Jade, in a long-term relationship, had been considering starting a family. She was warned that the gene could be passed to either a son or daughter, but the consequences for a girl would obviously be more significant.
She was offered IVF with gene therapy, which meant the mutant gene would be removed at the laboratory stage.
‘I talked about it with my partner, but I was really uncomfortable with that idea,’ she says. ‘I did want a baby — but I wanted nature to take its course.’
But while Jade was still agonising about what to do, she discovered she was pregnant — which changed everything. All decisions about future surgery would have to go on hold.
Baby Zander was born in October 2021, his sex bringing a certain relief, though ‘he could still have the gene — we won’t know until he is 18’.
But even as she was breastfeeding, Jade knew she was doing this ‘for the first and last time’.
‘I still wanted the surgery, so I saw being able to breastfeed him as a gift. If I have any more children I won’t be able to.’
She fed Zander for only two months ‘because my consultant advised that my milk flow needed to have stopped before he would operate’, and Jade felt a sense of urgency: ‘Having Zander made it more vital. He needed me alive.’
By August 2022, Jade was ready. She’d spent months researching reconstructive breast surgery. The publicity surrounding Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy gave her hope. ‘She was still stunning, still every inch a woman,’ says Jade.
What of her partner? ‘100 per cent supportive,’ she says. ‘He could see what the anxiety of a life of screening was doing to me.’
She had the reconstruction done at the same time as the surgery to remove her breasts.
Now, Jade feels a weight has been taken off her shoulders. But her scars will only fade so much.
‘I still don’t know if I’ll ever get back to my job, but I hope so,’ she says. ‘I think there has been a move towards models who reflect real life. Women in real life have curves, flaws, scars. It’s part of who we are. I’m proud of mine.’
Would her sisters have taken the decision Jade did? Claire says she probably wouldn’t, while Donna says: ‘Knowing what I know now, I’d probably have opted for a mastectomy after my chemo, but at the time I wasn’t strong enough. It may be something to think about in the future’.
However, they have both supported Jade’s decision.
‘She’s been incredibly brave,’ Claire says. ‘Both she and Donna have been absolute warriors.’
The sisters’ campaign, #NOTJUSTBRCA, will now push for increased screening opportunities and awareness. On World Cancer Day earlier this month, they released a video talking about their work with the NHS.
‘And that means women looking at their mums and aunties and asking questions,’ Donna says. ‘The answers can be frightening, but knowledge is power.’
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