Routine Scan Saves Life

By Kate McGowan

Belfast City nurse, Alison was 56 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram examination. Women over 50 are required to attend a mammogram examination every 3 years and Alison wishes to emphasise the importance of these routine examinations, which she believes saved her life.

Alison recalls the day of her appointment well. “Having had routine mammograms before I really didn’t think anything of it, I’ve always been healthy” However, after her seemingly routine examination, Alison was surprised to receive a letter 3 weeks later asking her to come back for a second appointment.

In Alison’s mind things began to escalate as she waited over 45 minutes for her second appointment. “The wait felt so long and I started to get more anxious. There was no one there to assure me. I actually knew a lot of the staff in the hospital and I remember going into the appointment thinking I’m so conscious of these people looking at me. I felt very exposed.”

After 12 biopsies, another mammogram and an ultrasound Alison received the results she had been waiting for after a long week of anticipation. “I think it was all the waiting that got the better of me. I couldn’t really escape thinking about the results in work, as everyone around me knew.” Alison was diagnosed with early stages of breast cancer and was told she would require a mastectomy. When asked how she felt upon receiving the news, she was very honest, stating “I burst into tears. It’s something you hear them talk to patients about but you think it will never happen to yourself.”

The next step following Alison’s diagnosis was surgery 2 weeks later. Alison described the process as, difficult. “Normally, I am a very optimistic person but when you get into the theatre and you’re all alone, your dignity sort of leaves you as your gown is ripped open and you’re drawn all over.”

However, despite struggling initially, Alison was very optimistic about her recovery, describing herself as lucky. “I didn’t need any radiotherapy and my body has healed well. I’m fortunate that they managed to get it all (the cancer) away and that I just need to stay on hormone tablets. They are horrendous but I will take them no matter what”. Alison talked about the services and programmes offered to her during recovery. “Macmillan Cancer support were excellent. I was offered fitness programmes such as circuit training, and it was just amazing to have someone else to talk to who was going through the same thing.”

When asked how her illness has effected her life, Alison’s response was very positive, “I don’t like to dwell on it. I am very lucky that I received great support from my family, friends and the Macmillan unit.” Alison is keen to give back to the charities that helped her through her illness. She has climbed Sleive Donard, completed a 13.5 mile half marathon and often speaks at well-being events. She noted, “I want to give back, I think it’s important to try and remain positive and live for today.”