'I don't know if I would be here today if I hadn't always been so vigilant about Breastcheck screening' - mum of one (61)

Mary Murray at home in Castlebar

Arlene Harris

Mary Murray (61) has always been vigilant about her health - making sure to visit the doctor if she had any concerns, doing regular checks to look for unusual lumps or moles and crucially; availing of any offer of screening which might detect an illness in the early stages, writes Arlene Harris.

However, despite this awareness, she was totally unprepared for the news that she had (early stage) breast cancer following a routine mammogram.

"I had been having a mammogram every two years with BreastCheck," says Mary who lives in Castlebar. "In 2012, I went along for my appointment and as I had no symptoms at all, I wasn't expecting anything other than the all-clear.

"I went away thinking everything was fine as usual, but two weeks later I got a letter saying that something had shown up on the scan and I was referred to Galway for further checks."

Mary, who was 55 at the time, was reassured by her husband Patrick but deep down she knew something was wrong as she had never been referred for further tests before.

"In the letter I was informed that I might be waiting for some time as depending on the outcome of the mammogram, they could have to follow on with an ultrasound and biopsy," says Mary.

"I was very frightened as I instinctively knew that something was wrong and in July 2012, I headed to Galway with my husband and daughter Mary Bridget by my side. Before I had Mary, I had several miscarriages so already had my fair share of suffering, so I really felt awful about the prospect of heading into another traumatic experience - but even though I was really worried, the staff at the hospital couldn't have been more helpful and were reassuring even when I was told that I had to go through with the triple assessment (mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy)."

The following week, Mary, who works in a special needs school in Castlebar, received an appointment to see a surgeon where she would be told the outcome of her tests and the treatment which would follow.

"I was told that I had a stage 3 Ductal Cell Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) in my right breast and would need to have a lumpectomy to remove it and also a lymph node," she recalls. "It was an early cancer which was located in the milk ducts and the surgeon said that without a doubt, the fact that I had gone for screening, meant that whole process was likely to have a more positive outcome.

"The surgery was done a week later and I was kept in for two days. Then a fortnight later, I went to see the oncologist, who made me feel really relaxed and said that he thought I would benefit from radiation but because the DCIS had been detected early, I wouldn't need chemotherapy which I was really happy about."

The Mayo woman underwent six weeks of radiation and said while the treatment itself was somewhat uncomfortable, it was a small price to pay for the peace of mind she received when the ordeal was over.

"I had to go up and down to Galway on the bus every day for six weeks for the radiation and the ICS helped with the transport cost, which I was very grateful for," she says. "Most of the time it was grand but it was exhausting and there were some side effects such as a burning of the skin - but I was happy to endure anything if it meant I was cancer free.

"And it would have been a lot worse if I hadn't gone for my routine screening. I was told that if I had left it, even for a year, I would have been looking at a mastectomy and chemotherapy and my survival would have been put into question."

It has now been six years since the routine breast check.

"I don't know if I would be here today if I hadn't always been so vigilant about screening," she says. "I have always availed of whatever was offered whether it was breast, cervical or bowel screening and I think this is something everyone should do. When I returned to work after my treatment I asked to talk to my colleagues about it as I wanted them to know how important it was to get screened and three went straight away for their BreastCheck appointments and I know I made the others more aware of the need to do the same. I still go for my annual mammogram - I wouldn't miss it for anything."