Facing up to Breast Cancer
Breast screening, mammograms, breast x-rays, whatever you want to call them, if you’re a woman over 50, you’ll get the appointment falling onto your doormat once every three years.
So, what’s all the fuss about? Is it really worth taking time out of your day to be screened? I’d say yes, without a doubt, but worryingly, it seems as though fewer and fewer women are taking up their appointments. This isn’t just happening nationally, but also on a local level too – it’s probably happening where you live.
So as the lead for the promotion of breast screening across South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw, it’s my job to do something about it.
I am proud to say that my job is my passion, yes, I know, that sounds cheesy, but there’s a reason, a reason why every day I come into work with the hope that I will be able to make a difference. A difference that could quite possibly prevent families like my own, experiencing the heart ache and loss of a loved one to breast cancer.
So, here’s my story and if this results in just one person attending their breast screening appointment, then it will be worthwhile sharing.
You never think it will happen to you. Never. Not in a million years.
Then it does, and the entire time, it feels like you’re being dragged through the longest, darkest, tunnel with no hope of seeing the light. The world around you is in complete chaos, slowly crashing down with every day that passes. A living nightmare.
A nightmare which came with no warning, and at the age of 15, I felt as though my life was over, my life changed in the blink of an eye, I struggled each day through the unknown, the feeling of longing and desperation. I could get through is, I had to get through this.
So now, 14 years later, I sit at my desk writing this blog, opening up my heart, being as honest as I can be about ‘my journey’ and finally realising that I have reached the light at the end of that long, dark tunnel. But there isn’t a day that goes by that doesn’t remind me of that journey, the day it all came crashing down.
The day I was told that my mum, my best friend in the whole world had terminal breast cancer. She was going to die.
I remember the day like it was yesterday, mum had been admitted into Barnsley Hospital with respiratory problems and had been undergoing tests. This was her seventh day in hospital, I didn’t really understand at the time what was happening, I went along with Dad for our daily visit, armed with my artist sketchbook and pencils, and jumped into the hospital bed with mum, we chatted about my homework and how I was getting on at school and the possibility of having some time off to spend with her whilst she was poorly in hospital.
Then it happened, the lady in red, with short black hair and brown framed glasses, hanging from the end of her nose, walked over to us. I remember that look, the one which mum gave to dad, the sadness and despair in her eyes, something wasn’t right. I was whisked away with Dad into a small office, covered from floor to ceiling with files and a desk overrun with paperwork. The walls began to bounce, my heart pounded as though it was going to burst, the darkness outside contrasted with the blinding street lights, I sat down…
She began to tell me that mum was very poorly and that they had tried their very best to help her, but the medication had failed to work, there was nothing else they could do, she was going to die. I was mortified.
Why my mum? Why me? It’s not fair! It can’t be right! I hated that nurse, how dare she say that about my mum, I wanted to scream and shout; I had so much anger bursting from me. Why my mum!
Looking back, I know that this was the Palliative Care Nurse, who tried her very best to explain to a 15 year old girl that her mother was going to die.
On the 15 January 2003 my mum passed away. Exactly two weeks after being admitted into hospital. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and secondary lung cancer.
My mum and her journey with breast cancer has taught me to experience everything that I can, to always forgive, and most importantly, to never take anything for granted because at any moment, it could all be gone. It has shaped my entire education pathway, my career, my everyday life, and my plans for the future.
That’s why I’m here today, commissioned by NHS England to promote Breast Screening across South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw, providing ladies with the information they need to make an informed decision about screening. Answering any queries or concerns they have, whilst being open and honest about my story and how breast cancer has changed my life.
I have such passion, enthusiasm and dedication to promoting breast screening, in the hope that one day we will win the battle against breast cancer; I may not be able to encourage every woman to attend their breast screening appointment in one fell swoop, but I certainly won’t give up trying.
A lot of things have changed since 2003, the year in which mum lost her battle to breast cancer, with these changes have come advancements in screening technology, treatments and pilot schemes which have been developed in numerous areas to screen women from the age of 47. I only wish that mum’s breast cancer could have been picked up today, then maybe, just maybe, she might have had a fighting chance.
My mum was such an inspiration to me, never once did I see her angry or even moan, she always had a smile and held it together… for me. I miss her terribly, growing up without her has been so difficult, it meant that I had to grow up fast, experiencing things that surely, a 15 year old shouldn’t really have to go through. Not having my mum around for those girly talks, for a shoulder to cry and that cuddle when you’ve had a bad day. Going through my GCSE’s, college and university, my graduation, wedding and recently giving birth to my baby girl – all without my mum, it has been so difficult, there’s a missing piece in my life, which no one could ever replace. I have to be thankful that I have such a caring father and husband who would do absolutely anything for me, my rock.
Becoming a mother myself has totally changed my perspective on life. The thought of leaving my daughter behind terrifies me. I know one thing for sure, when that letter for breast screening turns up on my doorstep, I will be first in line for my screening. I will always fight to win the battle against breast cancer. I’ll continue reaching out to all ladies, to mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters and aunties in the hope that they will take up their offer of breast screening. Our health is important, let’s do the best we can to protect it and to protect the ones we love.
All of which will be in memory of my lovely mum, Brenda.