You’ve been pinked!

October 11, 2010

I received a text message the other day which really made me stop and… think pink!

“Hello, pretty lady! You’ve been pinked. I consider you one of the 10 prettiest ladies I know. Please pass this message on and don’t forget  to TLC… touch, look and check!”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. More than 3,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Ireland each year and it is the most common cancer among women. Early detection provides the best possible chance of surviving the disease. Are you breast aware?

How can I be breast aware?

Breast awareness means becoming familiar with your breasts, how they look and feel at different times of the month. Try to get used to looking at and feeling your breasts regularly. By doing this you will be more able to notice any changes that aren’t usual for you. Use times like having a bath or shower to notice how your breasts look and feel. Running a soapy hand over your breasts and armpit helps you to feel the texture of your breast more easily. You may notice that your breasts change in size, shape or in how they feel at different times of the month. Your breasts may become lumpier or more tender around the time of your menstrual period, for example. As you become familiar with your breasts you’ll become more confident in knowing what is normal for you.

What are the changes to look for?

*  Any lumps, thickening or bumpy areas in the breast or armpit that seem different from other breast tissue. This is very important if it is new

*  Any changes in the size or shape of the breast (it may be normal for you to have one breast larger than the other)

*  Change to the nipple, such as crusting, ulceration, bleeding or a change in the direction or shape of the nipple

*  Veins that are standing out more than usual for you

*  Any puckering, dimpling or redness of the skin of the breast

The Breast Awareness 5-point Code:

*  Know what is normal for you

*  Know what changes to look and feel for

*  Look and feel

*  Report any changes to your doctor without delay

*  Attend routine breast screening if you are aged between 50 and 64

Please help get the message out there to women about the importance of being breast aware.

Information Source:  The Marie Keating Foundation

Be Aware, Be Active

October 13, 2009

Did you know that regular physical exercise is important for your breast health? Inactivity is estimated to cause 10-16 percent of breast cancers. Engaging in moderate exercise for at least 30-60 minutes every day can help your future breast health.

breast health day

Breast Health Day on 15 October 2009 aims to raise awareness of the benefits of physical activity on breast health and to encourage women to choose a more active lifestyle.

Europa Donna Ireland (EDI, the Irish Breast Cancer Campaign, is urging women throughout Ireland to do something active to mark the day. Events are taking place around the country and you are invited to come along and join in the fun.

Please see the EDI website for more details.  

This is an awareness-raising, not a fund-raising day!

Information source and graphic: Europa Donna Ireland and JBBC blog.

Sink or Swim

February 8, 2009

If life seems jolly rotten

There’s something you’ve forgotten

And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.

When you’re feeling in the dumps

Don’t be silly chumps

Just purse your lips and whistle – that’s the thing.

And… always look on the bright side of life…

Always look on the light side of life…

(from Monty Python’s Life of Brian)

I’m reading Sheila Hancock’s latest book Just Me at the moment and I’m lovin’ it.  Sheila has suffered many knock-downs in life including a personal battle with breast cancer and has lost not one, but two husbands to oesophageal cancer. Having written The Two of Us, a best selling memoir of life with her late husband John Thaw, Sheila found herself in despair with the aching void in her life. Desperate not to stagnate, she picked herself up and started to live life adventurously. Now at 75, Sheila has learnt to enjoy life on her own once more.  She has rebuilt her life and is relishing every minute of it…

“The stark truth is that, within sight of the finishing post, I am actually enjoying the race more than I have ever done.  Because time is short, I have never been so desperate to relish every minute.  I do not intend to waste any time being old and grey, and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire.  In recent years, my husband and many dear friends, some younger than I, have had life wrested from them.  In deference to them, I will value mine.”

Just Me is a deeply honest and wonderfully down-to-earth account of coming to terms with widowhood, and moving on. Sheila is an incredibly gutsy lady who has much to teach those of us who live life in smug contentment. As Sheila would say, the choice is yours,  get on with life!

Abridged extract from JUST ME by Sheila Hancock, published by Bloomsbury.

Breast Cancer Alert

January 11, 2009

I received an email from Grannymar yesterday asking me to forward a message which she had received, to as many people as possible.

“Women, PLEASE be alert to anything that is not normal and be persistent in getting help as soon as possible. Paget’s Disease: This is a rare form of breast cancer and is on the outside of the breast on the nipple and areola.  It appeared as a rash which later became a lesion with a crusty outer edge.  I would never have suspected it to be breast cancer but it was. If this had been diagnosed as breast cancer in the beginning, perhaps it would not have spread… “

The person who left this message wanted it to be delivered to women everywhere. This lady developed a rash on her breast similar to that of young mothers who are nursing. Because her mammogram had been clear, the doctor treated her with antibiotics for infections. She subsequently died from this rare form of breast cancer.


Paget’s Disease of the breast is an uncommon form of breast cancer which first shows as nipple changes. This type of breast cancer starts in the breast ducts and spreads to the skin of the nipple and the areola (the dark circle around the nipple).  It occurs in around 1% of all women with breast cancer. Men can also get Paget’s disease but this is very rare.

The symptoms of Paget’s disease look like other skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. However, there are differences.  For example, Paget’s disease affects the nipple from the start while eczema affects the areola region first and only rarely affects the nipple.  Paget’s disease usually occurs in one breast, while other skin conditions usually affect both breasts.  Approximately half of patients with Paget’s disease will also have an underlying lump. Because Paget’s disease can look like other skin conditions, it can be difficult to make a diagnosis.

One of the biggest problems with Paget’s disease of the nipple is that the symptoms appear to be harmless. It is frequently thought to be a skin inflammation or infection, leading to unfortunate delays in detection and care.

“What are the symptoms?

1.  A persistent redness, oozing and crusting of the nipple causing it to itch and burn.

2.  A sore on the nipple that will not heal.

3.  Usually only one nipple is affected.

Many women are not aware of Paget’s disease. If by passing this message around, we can make others aware of it and it’s potential danger, we are helping women everywhere. This message should be taken seriously and passed on to as many of your relatives and friends as possible; it could save someone’s life.”

Information Source:  Action Breast Cancer, a programme of the Irish Cancer Society.

A Vat of Porridge

March 6, 2008

porridge.gifOlivia O’Leary in her political column this week explains why she doesn’t like waking up these mornings. She is suffering from survivor syndrome. I admire her honesty.

You see Olivia has private health insurance which allows her to skip the queue in order to get a quick diagnosis, while public patients must wait. She is uncomfortable with this fact, she knows it’s wrong but given the dangers of hanging around on a public waiting list, she feels she doesn’t have any other choice. She describes the Irish health service as being like a great big vat of porridge – a squidgy bureaucratic mass in which our Minister for Health is floundering around, desperately looking for something to hold on to.

I was disgusted yesterday to listen to Mary Harney and Brendan Drumm apologising to the women involved in the breast cancer misdiagnosis scandal of last year. Of course those women have my sympathy but this was obviously just a publicity stunt to distract from the appalling deficiencies within the HSE, as shown in the recently published reports. The apologies were so insincere as to be nauseating. Where are the apologies for the thousands of Irish patients who have been let down by our health service? Nobody has ever apologised to me for the fact that my life was turned upside down as a result of contracting an MRSA infection from the Irish health service. And of course nobody has been blamed for any of the failures in the service, we’re told that it’s a ‘system’ failure. It’s a whitewash – there is no accountability within the HSE.

Poor Goldilocks. I can’t ever see a time when her porridge will be ‘just right’.

Pancake Thursday

January 31, 2008

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.