November 2016: When I wrote this, our family had just returned from a trip to the beautiful North. Whangarei, KeriKeri, Paihia, Waitangi, dazzling emerald oceans, native forests, panoramic views, hot summer weather. I never take for granted the privilege of living in one of the most beautiful countries on earth.
I feel privileged also, that I can enjoy life with my family, given that I had a breast cancer diagnosis some years ago and survived the regime that ensued, surgery, chemotherapy, radio therapy. To be honest while the treatment for a serious disease was relatively gruelling, for me, it was the anxiety and stress that surrounds such a diagnosis that was the hardest to overcome.
Fear of the unknown, perceived and real, changes to my lifestyle, challenges in the form of re-conceptualising what was formerly a normal existence to a new normal. Was everything I learnt from my parents right or wrong; what to eat, how to behave, cultural imperatives, were they the right choices for me or was the cancer diagnosis the result of doing something wrong for a long enough time to cause such a serious disease? At this moment in time with all the latest technology just a ‘google ‘away, the answer is still not scientifically clear. There are of course, lots of ‘probable’s’ in the mix, including diet, exercise, genetic disposition, environmental influences, and the latest culprit that keeps popping up in many disorders recently- stress!
However, in the long list of blessings that I have accumulated over the years, one of the first has to be the Government’s commitment to the free mammogram programme. That procedure is usually without complications and women go about their business for another 2 years unless something unusual is detected in the x-ray. In many countries, they have neither the finances nor the resources to try and contact women to tell them they are due for a FREE mammogram. This service is not available in the USA for example, and women do not have mandatory mammograms unless they have health insurance.
My daily work as a breast and cervical screening health promoter is to contact women and ensure they are available for their free mammogram. I get all sorts of responses, most women very happy to make the time to avail themselves of the service. Though, amazingly I had one lady respond with a great deal of irritation in her voice ‘I am too busy to worry about this at the moment, I am flat our getting the cancer relay organised”. I was unable to respond with what I was actually thinking which was ‘too busy to check that you don’t have cancer, for a cause that you seem passionate about, really!!”
Many people are shocked to realise that if they went to have a mammogram of their own volition, it can cost anywhere up to $300. So I am often taken aback by some people’s reluctance to take advantage of this free service, especially knowing the service our local Radiology service offers, which is always helpful, respectful and professional. So just for the record, no, it does not hurt; I would suggest that it is more uncomfortable than painful. I often have to stifle a giggle because it does look ridiculous, this breast squashed between two plates of perspex like a sandwich. But, the few seconds of ridiculous surely beats a shortened lifetime from invasive breast cancer. Hands up who would opt for the former. Me, for one!
- June Grant ONZM is the Breast and Cervical Screening Health Promoter for Te Arawa Whānau Ora
- Breast Screen Aotearoa offers free mammograms for all women aged 45 - 69