Beating the Blowfish
At the age of 32, in spite of never having sailed before, Emma Pontin gave up a successful career in the City to become a professional sailor. Four years later, by now an ocean-racing skipper and instructor, she faced a new challenge when she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Hear Emma talk at the Club 19 April and read Caroline Quentin's review of her book here
At the age of 32, in spite of never having sailed before, Emma Pontin gave up a successful career in the City to become a professional sailor. Four years later, by now an ocean-racing skipper and instructor, she faced a new challenge, when she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. She had first consulted her doctor with suspicious symptoms 18 months earlier, but was not taken seriously. When further symptoms prompted a thorough investigation, Emma was already in Gibraltar en route for a transatlantic crossing, having been reassured by the hospital that they were satisfied the results would confirm it was a harmless cyst.
Emma was determined to beat the blowfish, as she called her cancer, and her diary records the courage with which she tackled first a mastectomy, then chemotherapy, then radiotherapy, and finally reconstructive surgery and a prophylactic mastectomy of the other breast. Throughout her treatment, hospital appointments permitting, she continued to sail, and almost a year after the devastating diagnosis she skippered the transatlantic race that she had had to abandon, followed almost immediately by the Sydney to Hobart race as co-skipper.
It is an inspiring story, and one that has important lessons. Early and better diagnosis, not better treatment, is the reason that survival rates are better in the States and many European countries. If your symptoms are dismissed, follow Emma's advice that you know your own body. Breast tumours can occasionally mimic a typical cyst, so get yourself a private appointment at a top specialist hospital such as the Royal Marsden and insist on a biopsy. If you have regular mammograms, take the two most recent with you as it is of paramount importance regarding your treatment to ensure that previous mammograms have not been misread. Finally, Emma advises not having the reconstructive surgery at the same time as the initial mastectomy. And don't let the blowfish stop you sailing!
Review by Caroline Quentin, Who writes : " I also had a tumour that was misdiagnosed as a cyst originally so clearly Emma's experience is not unique. This book has life-saving advice"