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Showjumper who underwent double mastectomy hopes her story may help save lives

A rider who underwent an elective double mastectomy last week wants to raise awareness of the procedure, and her reasons for choosing this course of action.

Charly Edwards, 27, had all her breast tissue removed on 29 October, and intends to have surgery to remove her ovaries later in life.

She told H&H she chose to undergo the major surgery as she found out, after testing, that she had a variant BRCA gene, which means a much higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Her mother Jeanette Edwards died last year of ovarian cancer.

“If my mum had known she had the gene, she’d have had her ovaries out after she’d had her children; it would probably have saved her life,” Charly said.

“I did lots of research and found out that when I got to 30, my risk of breast cancer would have gone up to 80%. When we found out my mum had the gene, the whole family was tested, and both my sister and I had it too.”

BRCA gene variants can be passed on from parents to their children; they also increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer in men.

“I spoke to a leading genetic doctor, who knew all my family history, and he brought up having an elective double mastectomy and reconstruction to reduce my risk. He said the younger and fitter you are, the faster you heal and I thought ‘Right, that’s it. I’ll have the operation’. And I did.”

Picture by JK Riding Photography

Charly said she had no doubts over whether her decision was the right one, adding that as a rider she has had her share of falls, so surgery held no great fears.

“I just wanted to get it over and done with, so I could ride my horses, that’s all I cared about,” she said. “It was like a huge bridge I had to cross before I could carry on and achieve what I wanted to achieve.”

Doctors removed all Charly’s breast tissue, and she has air-filled expanders in place until she can have reconstructive surgery next year.

“I feel great,” she said on 4 November, less than a week after the operation. “I can’t lift my arms over my head but I feel really well, and I’m bored already! I still look like I’ve got breasts, with my airbags; it’s really clever.”

Charly says she feels relief at having had the procedure.

“And my chances of ovarian cancer will increase when I get to 40, so if I’ve hopefully had children before then, I’ll have my ovaries out too; I’m all about risk reduction,” she said.

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“I want to really raise awareness. If you’ve got a strong family history of cancer, read up on it, and push for testing if you’re eligible. If my journey can save one person, something good will have come out of something bad. I didn’t know anyone who had had the op, and thought it would be horrific but I feel great.”

Charly, whose aim is to jump on a British Nations Cup team in future, sold all her horses except her top ride Brass Monkey (Dougal), with whom she has jumped 1.40m classes, as she did not want them doing nothing while she recovers.

“I thought that was the best option, and then re-invest in my string when I’m back up and running, but it was very hard,” she said. “But off the back of Dougal’s success, I will try to build my string again, and hopefully achieve good things.”

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