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.