My Gratitude for Breast Screening

Breast Screening probably saved my life and definitely saved me from very drastic treatment for breast cancer.

When I was first invited to have screening, I went along quite happily knowing it was most unlikely that anything would be found. No-one in my family had had it and sure enough my mammogram was clear. It was a little uncomfortable so when the next invitation came, I hesitated but thank goodness I dutifully attended.

When the letter came shortly afterwards, asking to attend hospital for a repeat mammogram, I was more than a little shaken. However, everything was fine. It seems that sometimes supporting breast tissue can overlap, making it appear that there is a problem. If the mammogram is taken at a different angle the apparent lump disappears.

In the years that followed I had two more routine screenings that were clear but the one following resulted in another call back. I was not quite so worried this time, realising it was probably going to be okay and sure enough it was.

When the third call back letter came, I couldn’t feel any lump, and was more irritated than worried and then subsequently shocked that I was asked to undergo a biopsy.  Being an awful coward, I was terrified, but it was not nearly as unpleasant as I had imagined.  I was given local anaesthetic and I actually found the process to be interesting as I watched what was happening on the screen. I had a meeting with a doctor who explained that I would return when the biopsy had been checked and would most likely be benign.

By now I was certain that the biopsy would be positive, even though most tests are negative, but had to wait for the results, which turned out to be cancer as I expected, at an appointment with the surgeon few days later. The whole matter was handled very sensitively with a breast cancer nurse sitting in the meeting.  My options were explained to me and then the nurse explained them again in a private meeting afterwards in case through shock, I hadn’t taken them in.

 This allowed me to make an informed decision therefore to have a lumpectomy rather than a full mastectomy. The operation followed about a week afterwards. I was only in hospital overnight and thanks to the surgeon’s skill and some, new at the time, radioactive tracing, only had the tumour and the particular glands in my armpit which were related to my breast, removed. At the check up soon afterwards, I was told that the cancer had not spread to the glands and the removed tumour had a good margin of healthy tissue around it so I would not need chemotherapy. I was referred to an oncologist to arrange a few weeks of radiotherapy to see off any stray cancer cells and that was it apart from some medication for five years and monitoring.

I admit that I was affected mentally and emotionally at the time by being told that I had cancer but if I had not gone for my mammogram, by the time the tumour was big enough to feel, it would inevitably have spread and needed much more aggressive treatment. It possibly could even have been incurable. Now it rarely crosses my mind and when it does my main feeling is one of gratitude for the early detection and the superb care I received.

That all happened in 2010, eight and a half years ago. I still go for yearly mammograms and will continue even when my ten years of monitoring are over. This is available on request and I do encourage all my friends over 70 to take advantage of the option.