Lurking cancer gene that made siblings remove their stomachs

Sunday March 24 2019


When one has stomach cancer, there are two options: the strong possibility of eventual death or total removal of the stomach as a preventative measure. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

More by this Author

Sixteen years ago, Sophia Ahmed’s mother, Pearl Khan, died of stomach cancer.

Ten years after that, her sister, Yasmin Khan, died, also from stomach cancer. Sophia said, “I read Yasmin’s notes in the hospital and they thought it may be genetic.” That set her thinking. Sophia had two brothers and two sisters.

Were they all carrying a killer gene? She wondered. Was it possible that they could all die from stomach cancer?

Over three years, Sophia persuaded her siblings to submit to genetic testing. Her brother Tahir Khan said, “We didn’t even think about testing but Sophia was very tenacious.”


The first result to come through was for Sophia’s elder sister, Tracy. She was clear. “I thought we would all be the same,” Tracy said.

Not so. The other three, Sophia, aged 39, and her brothers Tahir, 44, and Omar, 27, tested positive for the cancer gene.

Their options were: The strong possibility of eventual death from cancer or total removal of the stomach as a preventative measure.

All agreed to the latter and underwent the procedure at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Surgeons constructed a new stomach, a small pouch, for each of them, by connecting the oesophagus to the intestine.


Said Sophia: “I have nothing but positive things to say about it. I can still eat and do everything. The only issue is maintaining weight and watching for vitamin deficiencies. I even had a baby after the operation and she was fine.”

Tahir said: “I have to graze constantly to get the nutrients my body needs. My brother still eats like a horse.”

Dr Marc Tischkowitz of the University of Cambridge, said, “This is a very rare, specific type of stomach cancer. It’s a gene that carriers can have for life and means they are at risk of developing cancer at any time. Removal of the stomach is a dramatic, life-changing procedure.”

* * *

On it goes…

On March 12, a fight broke out during a concert in Brixton, London, and three men were hospitalised with stab wounds. There was blood on the floor of the concert hall and the venue was evacuated.

March 15. Two men were stabbed within half an hour in separate incidents in Blackpool, one sustaining back injuries, the other wounds to the face. One man was arrested and a second is being sought.

March 16. A man aged 29 was stabbed to death during a fight in Fulham, southwest London. Police are investigating.

The upsurge in personal violence in Britain, particularly knife crime, as highlighted in this column last week, shows no sign of decreasing.

Perhaps scariest of all is this story from a primary school in the Harrogate district of north Yorkshire: Teachers raised the alarm when a girl of eight produced a kitchen knife in class.

Police Constable Matt Murphy said, “When I arrived, the child told me she would stab me in the heart.”

A police spokesman said the incident was brought to a safe conclusion. “No one was injured, the knife was recovered and the girl is receiving appropriate support.”

* * *

Molly Russell, aged 14, was an undeniably pretty girl and all the newspapers carried her photo. The pity of it was they were reporting her suicide, for which her father blamed social media.

Molly had been suffering from depression and had accessed Instagram, where she saw examples of self-harm and suicide, before taking her life.

Last week, a parliamentary group called for social media addiction to be classified as a disease and for tough controls to protect children such as Molly.

MPs said Instagram, Facebook and Twitter should be subjected to a code of conduct covering vulnerable areas for young people such as self-harm, eating disorders and low self-esteem.

Instagram has since said it is introducing “sensitivity screens” to hide images of self-harm.

* * *

Talking of his recent 80th birthday and waning capabilities, a long-time friend, a former sports writer, says what he hears frequently now among his relatives is, “Well, you know what he’s like.”

This probably comes from when he took his grandchildren to the movies and fell asleep.

Another friend, once a science teacher, says people now talk to him through his wife. “Is he all right? We heard he was doing poorly. He looks all right.” Oh, the indignities of old age.

* * *

An elderly couple, said to be from Scotland, though this is a matter of debate, won the Lottery and suddenly had more money than they ever dreamed of. "What should we do about the begging letters?” the old lady asked. Replied her husband, “Keep sending them out.”