Dawn Porter: 'I'm an emotional mess'
TV presenter Dawn Porter reveals the trauma she’s going through as she waits for cancer screening results in her new Sky1 show, My Breasts Could Kill Me... This is a departure from the light-hearted documentaries you’ve made in the past... "I’ve just turned 30. My mum was 34 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer and the chances are that cancer had been developing in her for a few years. She died when she was 36." Your great-grandmother also died of breast cancer in her 30s, which puts you in a high-risk category... "I have a 50-50 chance of getting a positive result. We look a lot in this show about the hereditary nature of breast cancer and the fact that if someone in your family had it you are higher risk and you must be more aware. I’m tested for the two most dangerous genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2 and if I test positively, I’ll have an 85-90 per cent chance of getting breast cancer. I haven’t had the results of the tests yet, I’m still waiting for them – they’ll come just before the programme goes out." What would you do if you found out you are high risk? "If I get a positive result I will have some big decisions to make. A preventative mastectomy is one option. In the programme I meet a mother and daughter who both had elective mastectomies – they were the first and the youngest to have this type of surgery in the UK – and it’s given them total peace of mind because they’re now very unlikely to get the disease. They were very high risk before. The idea of getting a double mastectomy is horrific - however, I want to live my life, I don’t want to be scared all the time." In the programme you also meet a 23-year-old who was continually told she didn’t have cancer when she did... "Yes, and she’ll never be free of cancer now because it’s spread to her spine. That’s the dangers of not catching the disease early." How has making this film affected you? "It was the heaviest thing I think I could have had done. I’d wanted to make an awareness show about breast cancer for years, and I wanted to do all this genetic testing on myself. I thought I was in a position with my job to really do something quite brilliant - really get people aware and really show people how to look after themselves, and hopefully prevent lots of cancer’s developing. I started off on that foot and as the show developed I began to think I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. I couldn’t pull the plug on it because I knew that would be stupid, but I just wished I’d never started it." Why did you think it was a big mistake? "Just the fact that I was having scans and tests done that could tell me that I’ve either got, or am predisposed to cancer. I was interviewing people that were dying and I found it so difficult. But also, along with that, there were so many times where I thought 'This is so worthwhile' – especially when I met some of the survivors." Although the series is mainly aimed at women, one of the breast cancer sufferers you feature is a man... "Yes, a young policeman called Johnny Baker who got it against all the odds. He was 33, very fit, no breast cancer in his family, nothing. The point of this documentary is to say that no one’s exempt. If you find a lump in your breast, have enough trust in the fact that it could be dangerous to insist on a referral. John Baker is proof enough that anyone can get this. I don’t want to scare people. Yes, breast cancer is a massive killer - but if you catch it early you won’t die from it." How are you coping with waiting for your own results? "I’m not coping with it very well at all. I was all right to start off with, but as it gets closer to the date I’m getting severe insomnia. I’m pushing people out of my life left, right and centre, being incredibly emotional. I’m just realising how it’s so likely I could have this faulty gene and I’m not coping with it brilliantly." What’s been the hardest part of making this film? "The hardest bit for me was meeting Sarah, a young mum who is going to die quite soon. It’s the first time I’ve ever looked at someone and thought, 'This is what my mum would have been like before she died.' To meet someone in this position that my mum was in and actually see the fear that she was facing was heartbreaking. I had no idea what to say but in fact I ended up giving her hope that her daughter Darcy was going to be OK. I think she saw my success and that I’d had a happy life, and that I hadn’t forgotten my mother. When I left she thanked me – which was a very precious moment." *My Breasts Could Kill Me screens on Sky 1 on Monday, July 6 and Tuesday, July 7*
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Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix.
An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.