Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK. Around one in eight women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, but if detected early, treatment has a higher rate of success.
Margaret Mills, of Padiham, was diagnosed with breast cancer 16 years ago when she attended her routine breast screening appointment.
Speaking of the time she was informed of the diagnosis, the 76-year-old said: “I retired at the beginning of 2005 and in the summer, I attended my routine mammogram screening appointment. On this occasion, I was invited back to have an ultrasound. My head was telling me, don’t worry, it could be something or nothing, but having been a nurse, my gut was telling me it is something.
"Both the screening and ultrasound picked up that something wasn’t right. A week later I was invited back for another appointment and this time, the consultant discussed the results with me and talked about removing part of my breast. It was then I decided if they were going to take away a quarter of my breast, they might as well take the lot.
“Following the operation, I had chemotherapy, which isn’t pleasant at all. After this I had radiotherapy and then the herceptin. From the start of the mammogram till the end of the treatment, it was about 21 months."
Margaret went onto explain how the care she received from staff at the hospice and hospital was fantastic. “Whilst I was going through my treatment, I went to the hospice once a week for 12 weeks," she commented. "It was a full day with all breast care patients, so we could all interact and talk to each other. We could also get help from the staff to help us cope psychologically and physically. I had 10 sessions of hypnosis, which really helped me and towards the end, one of the breast care nurses showed me how to do self-hypnosis and gave me tips and advice on how to cope. The breast care nurses and consultants were fantastic.
“I feel the worst treatment physically, was the chemotherapy. Psychologically, it’s still there, It never really goes away, you just learn to cope with it and you learn to swich off from it. Losing all your hair, its not just the hair on your head, it’s your eyebrows, your eyelashes, everything goes. Long term effects, I still get pain in my shoulder sometimes, I’ve got dry skin, I’ve got dry eyes. Eyebrows and eyelashes haven’t come back that much, but you can cover that with makeup anyway.
“I feel very lucky and am grateful to everyone involved in my care and treatment. As a way of giving back, I work as a volunteer at the hospital and for the CCG’s cancer team and many other things. I also have worked as a volunteer, in the breast care clinic prior to the pandemic and will start this again when things settle down again.
“All I can say is, if you find something which you’re not sure about, go and see your GP. Most of the time there’s nothing wrong, but its safer and if you’re offered a scan, please go and attend. The earlier you are diagnosed, the quicker you are treated and the better the outcome!”
Dr Neil Smith, Primary Care Director and Cancer Research UK GP for Lancashire and South Cumbria Cancer Alliance said: “Breast cancer can affect you at any age, so it’s important to be ‘Breast Aware’ and check your breasts for lumps or a change in size or shape at least once a month. If you notice anything unusual, please don’t wait – contact your GP.
“In most cases it won’t be cancer, but it’s best to get checked over because early diagnosis saves lives.”