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Christine McGuinness was devastated when her mother Joanne was diagnosed with cancer in September. And the 33-year-old reality star and campaigner was even more heartbroken that Covid-19 restrictions meant she was unable to be there to support her mum during her treatment for HER2-positive aggressive breast cancer – something she admits to feeling guilty about.
After the diagnosis, Christine – whose family has a history of breast cancer – made the courageous decision to take
a BRCA (breast cancer gene) test herself, with medical testing company Myogenes.
And in our exclusive shoot and interview, the mum-of-three tells us the amazing news that the results came back negative – she doesn’t have any faulty genes and is no more at risk of developing breast cancer than anyone else. “I’m just really relieved,” says Christine, clearly elated. “Thank God it came back negative.”
In our chat, she reveals that if the results had been positive she would have had a full mastectomy and breast reconstruction to make sure she’s “around for as long as possible for the children” – and decrease her chances of developing the disease.
The star and her husband, TV presenter Paddy McGuinness, 47, have three children – twins Penelope and Leo, eight, and four-year-old Felicity. All three have autism and the couple are currently filming a documentary for the BBC about the condition. It’s a cause close to her heart and she hopes the documentary will create greater awareness of it.
Here, Christine, whose autobiography, A Beautiful Nightmare, is out soon, reveals that her mum is now in remission and talks about working with her hubby and keeping the spark alive…
How is your mum doing, Christine?
She found a lump during the first lockdown. The doctors told her it was a cyst and didn’t even send her for an examination, even though there’s a strong family history there. So she left it. A couple of months later the lump got bigger and she was feeling exhausted all the time. She went back and saw a different doctor and they sent her for a scan the next day. She had a biopsy and was given a Macmillan nurse. Unfortunately, the results came back saying it was aggressive breast cancer and she needed to start treatment immediately. But now she’s doing really well. She had the lump removed, finished six months of chemotherapy and then did 10 days of radiotherapy. She’s carrying on with injections for the next two years which, unfortunately, can weaken her heart, so that’s another problem. We’ve got to keep an eye on her. But she needs the injections to prevent the cancer from coming back.
It must have been a difficult time for you…
It was awful and a horrendous time, not being able to be there for her because of the Covid restrictions. But for me, it was that worry when I thought about getting myself tested. It made me think I’m going to have to do it because my mum’s got cancer and I could have this gene. And I haven’t! So it’s a big relief. It doesn’t mean I can’t get cancer, but it means my chances are the same as anybody else’s.
Were you feeling nervous as you waited for your own results?
I put off doing the test because I was thinking how am I going to deal with this if it comes back positive. I researched everything you can do to try and prevent cancer if you do carry the gene. It does involve a lot of surgery. It’s quite serious stuff, but life-changing. It was a lot to think about and when I did the Myogenes test I imagined it would be quite invasive – but it’s not. It’s sent in the post – it’s just a saliva test and really quick. The results are sent directly to your GP and whatever way it goes you’ve got a professional there who can explain to you what the results mean. That made me feel at ease. When I got the phone call, he said, “Right, I’ve got your results back about your genes and I’m really pleased to tell you there’s absolutely no faulty genes and it’s come back negative.”
That’s great. Had you prepared yourself for the worst?
Yes, I thought about it a lot. I thought about how it will affect me and the children. I liked to think I’d made a decision on what I was going to do if it was positive. I would have gone for a full mastectomy and reconstruction. But when it came to it, I might not have gone or I may have got upset and down. At the time I thought I need to do everything I can to make sure I’m around as long as possible for the children.
You must be over the moon now, though…
I’m just really relieved. It’s been on my mind for years – even before my mum was diagnosed with cancer. I’ve had four aunties who have had cancer, so I know it is quite strong in our family.
Was Paddy supportive throughout it all?
Yeah, he was asking me for years to get it done. He says if something like that’s in your family you need to keep an eye on it. When I told him it was negative he was over the moon and gave me a big hug and a kiss. It was a weight off my shoulders.
What was your mum’s reaction?
Bless her, she’s had so much to deal with, and I didn’t know whether to say anything to her or not. I mentioned I was thinking about the test but didn’t actually tell her I’d had it until I had the results. I wasn’t sure how she’d have coped with it if it was the other way.
Do you worry about your daughters’ future health?
Absolutely. As a mum I worry about my children anyway. But when there’s a condition like this in your family, I do worry. I feel better knowing I don’t carry the gene and I’m hoping they won’t either. But the reality is, unfortunately, it’s something that can happen. But as time goes on there’s more research being done and treatments coming out.
Emotionally, you must have been very anxious over the past year…
It’s been awful, because my mum’s been there for me through everything. She was a single parent. She never had it easy with three kids and she’s the strongest woman I know. Over the last couple of years we became really close and she supported me when the children were diagnosed with autism. It was my mum who was there at the end of the phone. Every weekend it was me and my mum who took the children to play centres or parks. She loves them and they love her, so being without her for a year was awful. Not being able to support her through a difficult time, when she’d supported me through mine… There was a level of guilt there I’ll never be able to get over. But she’s done it and, hopefully, she’s going to be healthier and stronger day by day.
Were there times when you worried about what might happen to her?
Yeah, definitely around Christmas time. She had a bit of a setback and was blue lit in an ambulance a couple of times. She’d woken up in absolute agony. She couldn’t stand up and was struggling to breathe. They ended up taking her gallbladder out and said they thought it was nothing to do with cancer, it was other issues. Since then she’s been much better.
Has Paddy been understanding during your mum’s cancer battle?
He knows more than anyone what it’s like to lose a parent as, unfortunately, he’s lost both of his parents. So he knew I was devastated with the news and that if ever I was being a bit quiet, it was my mum on my mind. He was always there. He listened if I wanted to talk and if I didn’t want to, a cuddle was enough. He was always there with that reassurance saying, “She will be fine. Don’t worry, she will get through it.” He reminded me of how strong she is and how amazing treatments are these days.
How has the last year been for you in general?
There’s been times where we’ve loved it. We’ve had loads of time together, which we wouldn’t normally do, and there have been times where we’ve been thinking, “Oh my God, we need to get out.” But we’ve got through it and we feel really strong and happy. We’re now making this documentary about autism with the BBC. We’ve got three autistic children, so our experience of parenthood has been quite different to most other people’s, so we wanted to share that and raise awareness and help people understand. We want people to talk about autism and see how we can help, with little changes. We wouldn’t normally work on a project together, our work is always very separate, but it’s been lovely.
Paddy always seems so busy. It must have been very different to work together…
Yeah, it’s weird because we’ve never done that before. Years ago, before we had the children, we did a few shows together, like Mr And Mrs, but never anything like this. It’s been really good for me to see him learn more about autism and it’s been educational for both of us. To be able to do it together is lovely. We’re still doing our other work, and it’s a big year for us both, but the documentary is a really good and exciting part of it.
Judging by your Instagram page, you’re fitting in more time together…
Yeah, we are. We live together, so we do have time together, but our time is always busy and full. We’re making more of an effort. I never really stayed away that often, but in the past my husband would have gone to London and if he had a late finish he’d have stayed over and come back the next day, whereas now he drives back through the night. He’s doing that so he can get up and be with the children and spend more time with us all as a family. That’s something that’s happened after the lockdown because he’s realised how much the kids absolutely love and adore him and they struggle to get used to him not being there as much.
How do you keep the spark alive?
Separate bathrooms is an absolute blessing! He used to drive me insane putting all his things over the sink. Honestly, the man’s got more products than I have. We have a laugh and we are mates, as well as a couple. We just get on. Communication is key. It’s making sure we’ve the right balance of family time, couple time and time apart. I think it all goes hand in hand.
There are always rumours you’re doing the jungle and Strictly. Would you ever be up for shows like that?
I would definitely be up for it – I’ve been rumoured for years. To be honest, in the past I would have said no to everything, even though I’d have wanted to do stuff, it wouldn’t have fit in with my family. Now I feel the children are that bit older and getting easier, I would consider doing something. But it would have to fit around my children.
And you have an autobiography in the pipeline, A Beautiful Nightmare…
I’m really excited about it – I can’t believe it’s happening. There are so many stories I haven’t told before. I can’t believe people are going to read my story.
Preorder Christine McGuiness: A Beautiful Nightmare (RRP £20, out 9 November) and save £5 with offer code XA9. Call 01256 590490 or order online here.
Myogenes offers five tests, giving people an insight into their unique genetic make-up. Find out more here.
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