Pancake Thursday

Last year I reached that magical age when I could officially join the ‘club’. BreastCheck is part of the National Cancer Screening Service in Ireland and invites women aged 50-64 for a free breast x-ray every two years. Breast cancer occurs most commonly in this age bracket and with early detection being the key to successful treatment, regular screening is recommended.

My birthday came and went and when six months later I still hadn’t heard from Breastcheck, I decided to take the matter into my own hands. On researching BreastCheck online I was able to check if my name was registered using a self-search facility. My name wasn’t known. I next phoned BreastCheck to enquire what action should be taken and to my surprise, the helpline was answered by a decidedly grumpy male voice. To be fair, my call was made during the time of the outcry about breast cancer misdiagnosis when women all across the country were up in arms and I would imagine that all breastcare services were probably bombarded with enquiries. I still felt it wasn’t right to have a man dealing with enquiries in what is essentially though not entirely, a woman’s area of health. I persisted however and he took my details assuring me that I’d hear from BreastCheck early in the New Year.

Yeah right, I thought! But actually I did get an appointment in the post and today I attended a mobile unit of BreastCheck to undergo my first mammogram. The unit staff were courteous and welcoming. I arrived early for my appointment and as there was no one else waiting, I was seen straight away. While sleet and rain battered against the window outside, I stripped to the waist and a nurse carefully helped me into position to be x-rayed from two separate angles. Each breast was compressed like a pancake in a vice-like structure causing significant discomfort but it only lasted a few moments while the x-rays were taken. My biggest problem was having to contort my body with an arm raised over my head to get the angle required. I have one shoulder which has been surgically restricted to stop recurrent dislocation and this did not make things any easier. However, it wasn’t long before the procedure was finished and I was invited to look at the images on screen. I was informed that one breast is larger than the other though apparently this is quite common and is nothing to be concerned about.

Having dressed and returned to the reception area, I decided to use the opportunity to ask more about the system used to automatically register women. I was confused as to why I seemed to have slipped the net. I was told that BreastCheck compiles their list from information supplied by the Department of Social and Family Affairs, General Medical Services and private health insurance providers. I then learnt that the process can take up to two years before someone will be called for screening. I was appalled to hear of this as I have several friends who developed breast cancer at my age and with this disease, it’s well-known that time is of the essence. My prompt appointment had come about simply because I’d pre-empted the system by making an enquiry. I would urge all women in this age bracket to ensure that they are in the system and that they attend for mammograms when called. We owe it to ourselves to take whatever steps are necessary to stay safe. Please make time for your breast health.

I have no particular reason to fear breast cancer but because I’m aware that a mammogram can show up some tumours two years before a lump can be felt, I’d rather be safe than sorry. I was pleased to hear that today’s results will be posted out to me personally and to my GP, within three weeks. With that reassurance, I took myself and my lop-sided breasts home to wait.

9 Responses to Pancake Thursday

  1. Grannymar says:

    Steph it is better to have lop-sided breasts than none at all. A couple of minutes of discomfort are worth it, if it can save a life. I had both ends checked this year, automatic calls. Last time round I was called back to the breast clinic. It was a problem here and in Mainland UK where one Radiographer miss-read the X-Rays.
    I have some friends who say “I would never have that done!” Silly women.

    Anyway, at my age it is the only invite I get to be photographed topless!! 

  2. Steph says:

    You’re quite right Grannymar, I am lucky and some of my not so fortunate friends would think me very lucky, if only they were still here to say it!

  3. Baino says:

    Steph we also have Breastscreen, free for women over 50 and a strong lobby to introduce it as a free service for younger women. We also have a pap smear registry (not that I have to worry about that any more) and reminders are biannual. From this year, girls in year 10 are also offered the Cervical Cancer vaccine at school. These are public health issues that work very well over here thanks to regular TV advertising. Rotary also offer free prieiminary screening for bowel cancer. Um, I haven’t yet dared to go there . . ignorance is bliss! I’ve had enough intimate probing for one year!

  4. Steph says:

    I don’t blame you, Baino!

    Yep, one the benefits of a hysterectomy is NO MORE smear tests. Yabba dabba do!

    A colonoscopy is okay as procedures go, it’s the preparation for it that’s so awful. I was so sick the first time I needed bowel investigation, I really didn’t care what happened and the sedation was heaven! I also had a scope put down my throat a few years ago while under sedation and apparently, I put up a major fight. Thankfully I remember nuffing!

  5. I’m sorry to hear that you had to deal with grumpy person on the phone, but I have to challenge your expectation that only female staff would be involved in this process. Breast Check should be recruiting staff based on their ability to do the job, not their gender. It’s not as if you would expect to be going into intimate medical details when making an appointment over the phone.

  6. Steph says:

    Welcome! Serial Complainer and thanks for your comment.

    Fair point and I’m pleased you’ve raised it. My comment on the gender of the person staffing the line was based on an instinctive reaction, which was one of surprise. The BreastCheck number is an information helpline and I suspect most women would be more comfortable discussing any concerns about their breasts with female staff. I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong on this.

    I’ll draw your attention to the aims of BreastCheck:

    The Programme aims to:
    Protect the dignity and privacy of women, provide women with a choice and involvement in their own care; deliver a high quality programme dedicated to excellence and meeting the highest international clinical standards; be women centred, accessible and free of charge.

    The male voice I encountered did not put me at ease though to be fair, it did deliver the goods 🙂

  7. Steph says:

    Comment from Dean Calvert on ‘Pancake Thursday’:

    “Good info. and reading. I would definitely bookmark you to check for new updates.

    I replied:

    Hi Dean

    You’re very welcome to check out my site for updates but as I don’t offer free advertising, I’ve removed your link.

    Cheers, Steph

  8. Maman Poulet says:

    And Steph the Equal Status Act/Employment Equality Act would allow Breastcheck to have staff employed of the gender that service users would find most comforting to deal with. Other employments have this issue and are allowed to positively discriminate.

  9. Steph says:

    Cheers! Suzy and thanks for dropping by.

    I suspect the situation encountered was due to the furore in the country at the time over the mismanagement of breast cancer diagnosis. I was a bit taken aback to find such a line ‘manned’ but I wasn’t upset by it. He did the job, if a tad grumpily.

    Keep on clucking!

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