Young at Heart: Early diagnosis saved my life

LAST week there was an article by the Australian Institute of Health and Well Being which set out the statistics about the number of women in the target group (age bracket between 50 to 69) who took part in the breast screening program in 2011 and 2012. Only 55 per cent of women took up their yearly free mammogram. That is unbelievable when we all know someone who is living with breast cancer; it is so prevalent in our community.

Every month of the year there appears to be a reason for walking, running, eating or  head shaving to raise money to find a cure for any number of different cancers and support yet another person or family struggling with the disease.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and as I happen to have firsthand knowledge of that particular form of cancer, I want to make a special plea to those women who have yet to ring up and make that vital appointment...who are putting off that phone call until tomorrow and tomorrow.

I nearly ignored the letter which arrived reminding me that it was time for a revisit and that mammogram. After all, Christmas was around the corner. I was busy with all the pre-Christmas celebrations and end of year wind-ups at work. Perhaps I could change the appointment for January... or sometime next year.

What made me decide to make that appointment?  Was it to “get it over with” prior to Christmas? Perhaps something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on started niggling in my ear. In any case I picked up the phone.

How much luck is there in our decision making, and how much is plain commonsense, but had I not made an appointment that week before Christmas I may not be here now to write this salutary tale.

In Bendigo we are incredibly fortunate because the breast screen clinic is in this city, set up especially for women, with trained staff who are supportive and professional in every way.

I felt fit and healthy, was enjoying work and cherishing the time after the children left home to pursue activities of my own, along with interests Rob and I shared. Life was sweet indeed, and the future appeared rosy.

It all came tumbling down, on that day two days prior to Christmas. 

The phone call was my recall, and after that I walked a pathway I never could have imagined. I began a re-evaluation of my life. Family became very important; the concern of a quietly supportive husband became critical to my attitude to the diagnosis and friends were such an important part of my journey. They were my laughter, my tears and my therapy. I needed a different face for my family, one of reassurance for my children and my husband that all would be well. 

Five years later and I asked my surgeon the likely outcome had I ignored that letter. He was very blunt. You would be dead, he stated very matter-of-factly.

Instead with great Bendigo care and excellent professional follow-up I am alive and every day is precious. I watch my grandchildren thrive and grow with pleasure and some poignancy as others I knew have not had this chance.

A skilled technician can ensure that a mammogram is a swift, competent procedure. I  swear by that statement because I have had more than a few in my lifetime.

The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the outcomes for those diagnosed. 

A mammogram is a small price to pay, in any case, to go on living, to see your family grow and thrive. 

Life is indeed still sweet. 

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