'I knew what to look for, there was no sign'
My Story: Orla
"I was 51 when I went for my first routine screening mammogram, just over a year ago," recalls Orla (she prefers not to include her full name), who trained as an oncology nurse and now works in the pharmaceutical industry. "I had no family history of breast cancer. As an oncology nurse, even though I probably didn't check as often as I could have, I certainly knew what to look for, and there was no sign of any abnormality, so I wasn't dreading the appointment."
At that appointment, the radiographer did both breasts and then, as Orla was leaving, asked if she could do the left side again. "I asked why," Orla recalls, "and she said that because it was my first time getting a mammogram, she wanted something to compare. That seemed ok."
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Less than a week later, Orla got a recall letter. "The letter was very reassuring, but I did feel a dread then."
At that second appointment, she had another mammogram and a biopsy. "It was the same radiographer, and she told me straight that there was something on the mammogram she was concerned about. She also said that one of the nodes under my arm was enlarged. At that stage, I thought, 'Uh shit…' I wasn't under any illusion then," Orla says.
The biopsy showed malignancy, an infiltrating ductal carcenoma with lymph node involvement. An MRI and Cat scan followed, which showed up a second, pre-cancerous lesion in the same breast. At that stage, the surgery option moved from lumpectomy to mastectomy, with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and finally hormone therapy.
"It wasn't as bad as I expected," Orla says. "I found losing my hair very hard, but the anti-nausea medication has improved so much that I didn't feel too bad. I carried on working, although not fulltime, through the 16 weeks of chemo. You just get on with it," she says. "What else can you do?"