BreastCheck – How One Easy Appointment can make all the difference
“I was one of the lucky ones. I had no symptoms but went to a BreastCheck screening and had it picked up early.”
Eilish Hayes (52) from Skibbereen, Co. Cork is on a mission to encourage every woman in Ireland who gets invited by the HSE to go for a BreastCheck mammogram. “I got my letter last year and went to have my screening at the mobile unit at Bantry. I was on a day off from work and thought no more about it.”
“If I had not gone that day in November last year and my health situation was not discovered I would potentially be in a very very different position today and I dread to think what that would have meant for my children and grandchildren.”
After her screening, BreastCheck asked Eilish to attend hospital in Cork for a second mammogram and biopsy, where it was discovered that she had a tumour in her left breast. “I had no symptoms. I had always done checks but had felt nothing. The shock was like someone punched me in the face. After a cry, the first thing I thought of was my long blonde hair.”
“Following detection they worked very fast.”
Describing what followed as a “rollercoaster’, things then moved very quickly for Eilish. “I was lucky that because they found it, they could then work very fast to decide on my treatment”. By mid-December, Eilish had the tumour and a lymph node removed. Waiting for details of what type of cancer it was was very difficult for her and her family, but Eilish was very relieved when told that the margins were clear and it had not spread to the lymph node.
Early this year, Eilish started twelve sessions of chemotherapy. “When it happens to you, you get a completely different understanding of cancer”, she points out. She “cannot speak highly enough” of all the medical staff at the South Infirmary in Cork and at Cork University Hospital where she also attended. “They reassure you. They say that no question is a stupid question and they bring you through it as best they can.”
Losing her hair was very difficult for Eilish, who chose not to wear a wig. “I asked all my friends to send me colourful bandanas. I got such support from them – they sent all sorts of types and styles.”
“I’m lucky – I have a fantastic family”
Eilish admits that it was “not all plain sailing” – having to give up work meant a financial hit, in addition to having to cope with the mental and physical affects of chemotherapy. She praises her sisters – in particular Mairead – “she was my absolute rock” and her 3 children who live in the UK. “I’m very close to them – they are my life and especially my two grandchildren Elliot and Adam. I am lucky to have such a fantastic family.”
“I want to encourage every woman who gets a letter to please go for a mammogram. It’s free. I do not know where I would be today or how it would have progressed if I had not gone for mine. If they catch it early, they can help you to get through it.”
So Why BreastCheck? - Early Detection Works
Even if you have no signs or symptoms, it is really important to attend your BreastCheck appointment, when invited. Breast screening aims to identify people at risk, given that early access to effective treatment is helping to lower deaths from breast cancer.
BreastCheck, part of the HSE’s National Screening Service, screens thousands of women across Ireland on an area by area basis every two years. All eligible women who are registered should be invited by their 52nd birthday, depending on when screening returns to their area.
To date, the programme has provided more than 1.5 million mammograms to over 500,000 women and detected over 9,800 cancers.
Are you on the register? BreastCheck – the National Breast Cancer Screening Programme is free and is providing mammograms to women aged 50 to 66 for screening and by 2021, will have extended the age range to invite women up to 69 years.
Breast Cancer Survival Rates are Improving
While the number of cases of breast cancer in Ireland is increasing, breast cancer survival rates are actually improving.
The aim of BreastCheck is to reduce deaths from breast cancer in Ireland by finding and treating the disease at an early stage for the best possible outcome.
Invest in Yourself
The most recent figures from Ireland’s national breast screening programme show that the initiative has detected the highest number of cancers since screening began - including cancers which might have continued to progress, if they were not identified through screening. Despite this, almost 50,000 women did not attend their mammogram appointment last year.
Given that BreastCheck is aimed at women who have no symptoms, there is no doubt that there are many women who are going about their daily lives, unaware that they may have an underlying issue, until it becomes too late. Eilish is glad she is one of the many women who did attend.
Breast screening is quick, easy and free and the earlier a detection of cancer is identified, the greater the chance of a good recovery. If you are eligible for screening, BreastCheck urges you to invest some time in looking after yourself by checking the register and attending your free mammogram when invited.
If clients wish, they can check the register to see if their details - name, address and age – are included and correct on the online database by doing a simple self-search. In addition, those that are not registered but are eligible, can join online.
If you notice any symptoms or changes in your breasts, or are worried about any breast problem and have not received a BreastCheck appointment, you should go and see your GP (family doctor) without delay.
To sign up now or check if you are on the register go here
For more information freephone 1800 45 45 55 or go to www.breastcheck.ie