Singer Rita Ora, whose mum was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2005, has spoken for the first time about her experiences with the illness.
She said she had a genome test to see if she was a carrier.
The British musician said she experienced symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and suffered crippling panic attacks as she struggled to support her beloved mother, Vera, as a teen.
Backing our Get Checked campaign, Rita said: “I see these things saying check yourself for lumps but my mother didn’t have a lump she had a sharp pain, and she still went and got checked.
“I have done the BRCA test (the hereditary breast cancer test) and the gene test myself and, luckily, I don’t have the gene.
“But I still check myself regularly. Genetically, there was no history of breast cancer in my family before my mother, but she still got it.
“There are loads of tutorials online which I have used. You have to be aware of your body.
“But you can also call your GP to ask. There are loads of ways of accessing the information.
“Scans in the UK have dropped 80 per cent since COVID struck, and a million women haven’t had any check-ups.
“The backlog of cancer treatment is crazy. And some people are too afraid to go to hospital, which is totally understandable, but you have to go and get checked.”
The most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
If a woman has inherited a mutated copy of either gene from a parent, they have a higher risk of breast cancer.
On average, a woman with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation has up to a 70 per cent chance of getting breast cancer by the age of 80.
Vera, 56, a psychiatrist with the NHS, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease, and after chemotherapy and radiation, had a partial mastectomy. Rita admits she spent much of her twenties worrying she would be diagnosed with breast cancer.
As a result, she works on “mindfulness” and wellbeing exercises to help arrest any panic attacks and still practises regular cognitive behavioural therapy in a bid to manage it.
Asked if she had been to her doctor after experiencing a sharp pain in her breast, she replied: “In the sense of urgency. Considering all of the patients in the world, if you can self-prevent it is the first stage. I don’t know if it’s in my head, but it can be a case of a little heartburn and I am like, ‘What is that?’”
Rita hopes that by talking about it, women will be encouraged to attend routine appointments.
While breast cancer is relatively rare in women under 40, Rita’s decision to speak out comes four months after Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding, 39, bravely revealed she had breast cancer, adding that it had spread to other parts of her body.
Six-times Brit award nominee Rita also spoke about the pressures of caring for a sick family member.
The Kosovo-born performer, who moved to London as a child, said: “Cancer affects everyone. My mum battled it twice, and I had a lot of different emotions. I felt a lot of responsibility to step up and become a strong teenager. I wanted to protect my mother.
“Even now, every time my mother has to have a check-up we get reminded of all those feelings of waiting for the result, and the fear factor of it all. Everyone has a way of dealing with their thoughts, and I am a big believer in therapy – certainly it has helped me a lot.
“I also exercise and meditate to try and keep my panic in check.
“My meditation teacher taught me something that always stays with me. It’s five little words: ‘You are not your thoughts.’
“It is very simple but it is something I have always thought about if I ever get into a state of worry. I repeat it to myself.”
On the subject of previous panic attacks she added: “They’re such a hard experience to explain.
“Growing up when I was younger I didn’t know what a panic attack was. I don’t think a lot of teenagers realise what they are. You can’t breathe, your chest feels tight, you lose your vision – you go into a wormhole and this comes from personal experiences.
“I found music is a healer and I think I’ve gone through a lot to make sure I don’t get to that phase of feeling like I can’t breathe again.
“Aromatherapy, therapy in general, exercise, meditation and getting checked, giving yourself the peace of mind – these all help me stay calm now.”
This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission