Jo Faulkner was told she would develop bowel cancer,
she had her bowel removed - as did her son and daughter.
Now her 13-year-old granddaughter faces the same fate.
It was the moment
Jo Faulkner had always dreaded. 'I'm going to have my
bowel removed just like you,' said her son, Kelcey.
Shakily, he reached out to put his hand on his sister
Lyndy's arm - 'And so is she.'
For 34 years, Jo, 55, had fought the
cancer that had ravaged her body. She thought she had
faced life's hardest test - and won.
But now a simple test had turned her
life upside down, proving that Jo's two children and
even her 13year-old granddaughter, Leanne, carry the
same cancer gene that she does - one that will kill
them unless each of them has their bowel removed.
'It broke my heart to think that my
kids were going to have to go through serious surgery
at such a young age,' says Jo. 'I never thought I would
reach the age I have because of cancer, but the idea
that my children and grandchild would also suffer was
almost too much to bear. 'But we are a strong family
and we will get through this.'
Jo, a mobile hairdresser from Leicester,
first found a lump in her stomach when she was just
21. It was 1968 and life was good. She and husband Pete,
now 58, had a healthy two-year-old daughter, Lyndy,
now 37, and their son, Kelcey, now 35, had just been
She was washing up when she felt a
lump in her stomach as she brushed past the kitchen
counter. I went to the doctor the next day and was told
it was a tumour the size of a golf ball and that it
had to be removed immediately,' says Jo.
'It was only after I'd had the operation
that I was told the lump had been cancerous. Hearing
that word was as if a death knell had been sounded for
me. 'I was faced with the prospect that I might not
live to see my children grow up. It was early December,
and I thought this could be my last Christmas.' Luckily,
the operation was a success, but only two years later,
another tumour appeared.
Over the next 15 years, Jo was
operated on in Leicester City General Hospital
every two years, having a total of seven tumours
removed. Then, at the age of 37, it seemed that
Jo was finally cancer free. There were no more
tumours, and it looked as if the cancer had retreated.
But just three years later, Jo
found yet another lump - this time in her breast.
'It was so unfair,' she says. 'To have gone through
so much pain just to have the cancer appear somewhere
else. I felt I might never be free of it.'
However, after an operation to
remove two lumps - which turned out not to be
cancerous - Jo felt healthier than ever, and for
the next five years she was tumour free.
though, it wasn't to be the end of her association with
cancer. Jo's cousin Ruth, who had also been fighting
cancer for years, had a genetic test, which showed she
had a gene called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- a rare condition where carriers are 100 per cent guaranteed
to get bowel cancer.
we had an explanation why my family were so susceptible
to bowel cancer,' says Jo.
went for a gene test myself, and it came back positive.
So my doctor told me I would need a colonoscopy - where
surgeons would look at my bowel through tiny cameras.'
Jo was told there was a five-year waiting list for the
operation, but she was reassured that she was in no
that time her thoughts turned to her children, Lyndy
and Kelcey. There was a 50/50 chance they would have
the gene - but Jo prayed that life wouldn't be so cruel.
Sadly, it was. 'When
both their test results came back positive, my guilt
was overwhelming,' says Jo, her voice cracking as she
speaks. 'I had passed on this killer gene to my children
without realising it.' Lyndy
and Kelcey were equally distraught. 'It was like a time
bomb inside my body,' says Kelcey. 'I know Mum feels
responsible, but it's not her fault.'
and Kelcey started to discuss having their bowels removed
- but their decision wasn't finalized until their mum
went into hospital colonoscopy. Doctors
found over 200 polyps or small growths, in her bowel,
and because she carried the FAP gene it meant there
was a 100 per cent chance that at least one of them
would turn cancerous.
Not only that, but the doctors warned that in a couple
of years they would be having the same conversation
with Jo's children.
only chance of avoiding cancer was to remove
her bowel before the cancer could develop. 'I
fell apart after hearing that,' says Jo. 'All
the fight was knocked from me.'
she knew what had to be done. And in November
2001, Jo had her large colon, rectum and womb
removed. When she came round from the anaesthetic,
she saw her ileostomy bag - to collect her waste
for the first time.
next few weeks were the hardest of my life,'
Jo explains. Pete was a star though. He visited
me every day, and he and the children even tried
to make a joke of my bag by calling it Gizmo!'
all the time, Lyndy and Kelcey were facing their own
private hell. 'The choice was easy for me,' says Lyndy.
'I had seen what Mum had been through over the years,
and I just wanted to get my operation over and done
with as soon as possible.'
fact Lyndy was in The Leicester Royal Infirmary for
her operation in January 2002, just three weeks after
her mother had had hers, when Jo was rushed back in
with postoperative complications.
in April 2002, Kelcey had his bowel removed. Afterwards,
doctors made a chilling discovery - without surgery
he would have developed bowel cancer within a year.
Any doubts the family had were erased by this shattering
when Lyndy's 13-year-old daughter, Leanne, started to
suffer bowel problems and was sent for a genetic test,
the result sent further shock waves through the family.
'I can't describe how I felt when I was told that Leanne
faced the same surgery at such a young age,' says Jo,
shuddering at the memory. 'I felt so powerless against
this tiny something inside of me that was moving through
the generations of the family I love so much.
brother, 14-year-old Lewis, has tested negative for
the gene. 'And we're here for Leanne. We'll conquer
this together - as a family.'
prove that life goes on, Jo has just completed a 300-mile
walk with Pete to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Research.
The walk, which ended in June this year, has so far
raised more than £4,000.
was tough, but as I get older, I feel stronger and stronger,'
says Jo, whose ileostomy bag has now been replaced by
an internal pouch that collects her waste.
I was younger, I could never imagine how I was going
to cope every time I got cancer again.
now, after everything I've been through, I feel I can
cope with absolutely anything. This fatal legacy tried
its best to get rid of us, but we have beaten it.