She said to me: “Do you think that this looks normal?” I looked at the lump and my response was evident on my face. “No, you need to go back to them.”
As misdiagnosed illnesses go, my friend Tara’s, (‘You have lumpy breasts – take primrose oil.’) missed breast cancer diagnosis would be enough to terrify anyone into being quite vociferous with our health system. But it happens, so we need to be aware.
This is breast cancer awareness month and each and every woman in Ireland needs to be not only aware but vigilant and ready to act. One in 10 of us Irish women will develop breast cancer over the course of our lifetimes. Many of us know someone and many of us have lost someone close to us to this disease or its metastases, which is how I, unfortunately and painfully, lost my friend Tara five years after her eventual diagnosis.
Every year organisations and companies fundraise to support Breast Cancer Ireland (BCI) who are working to transform breast cancer from a fatal disease to a treatable illness long-term. Events are held, races are run, tea and bubbles are drank and there are opportunities to hear from inspirational speakers. All this leads to amazing progress being made in support of women with this disease.
In May, Leopardstown Racecourse held its Ladies Evening supported by Microsoft for the third year running in aid of BCI. This event was held to coincide with the year’s most valuable ladies’ race in Europe – the inaugural Microsoft Cup. Over 440 women were in attendance to hear from inspirational speakers including business woman and Dragon’s Den investor Chanelle, Lady McCoy who imparted her strategies for success.
Managing director of Microsoft Ireland Cathriona Hallahan shared her experience of dealing with work and illness. And this is an experience that you would like to think would not happen in today’s working environment. Just 32 when diagnosed with breast cancer, Cathriona was forced to take time out of work at Microsoft for her treatment.
During this absence, her boss changed and she lost the connection with someone that she felt was really supporting her career. She had to start again and prove herself. Her confidence was low with her illness but she didn’t want to spend all her time being sick, she wanted to go back to work, she wanted to have an impact.
“I wanted to go back even if that meant working part time, I wanted the choice to work while I was going through my treatment. Each one of us is different and everyone will deal with that diagnosis in their own way, but for me, I just wanted to be in a place where I felt I was in control. It was very important to me to go back for my self-esteem.”
However, upon meeting her new boss, and asking for this part-time work, he took the view that if she couldn’t come back 100%, he didn’t want her back. At that point, she couldn’t commit and this had a major impact on her in terms of how she viewed the company. But it didn’t stop her and Microsoft today, she was happy to say in her talk, is a very different place.
It is trying to anticipate the needs of employees who are returning to work, whether that is from illness or maternity leave to make sure that they are supported.
DJ Georgie Crawford who is also a breast cancer survivor bravely shared her story. When diagnosed, Georgie was also just 32. On maternity leave with her first child, she said that the shock she experienced was very difficult to accept but this was followed by action mode with the help of BCI and the other women she met on her journey to recovery.
Georgie was asked to do radio interviews to talk about her experience but felt that there was a need for people to have more in depth conversations than what could be crammed into a short radio interview. She set up her own podcast The Good Glow where she speaks to advocates and inspirational people about health and wellbeing.
Stand out for breast cancer
Consultant breast surgeon and chair of Breast Cancer Ireland Professor Arnie Hill, who has guided the development of the breast service at Beaumont Hospital since 2006, is also involved with a fundraising initiative to raise the final €1m needed to build a stand-alone, dedicated breast clinic at the hospital. Four million euro has already been committed to the project by private donors with a small amount of State funding. On 4 October, the hospital supported by Lidl held their “Stand out for breast cancer” fundraising lunch and fashion show.
This fashion show was unique however in that 14 women who have had breast cancer and who have never modelled before took to the stage to celebrate life after breast cancer. They were supported by other survivors, family and friends. Hopefully the event brought the hospital a step closer to opening their facility.
Dr Deirdre Duke who is a consultant radiologist and the lead clinician for the breast service said: “The number of patients diagnosed with breast cancer in Beaumont (their catchment stretches to the border with Northern Ireland) has grown from 89 patients 15 years ago to 400 patients in 2018. This unit will allow us to streamline our services in a patient-focused environment. It will ensure that those that develop breast symptoms in the future will have access to one of the best breast diagnostic and treatment centres in the country.”
Glanbia runs, walks and wraps for BCI
As silage season 2019 got underway Glanbia Agribusiness once again unleased their pink bale wrap onto Irish farms. This was the fifth year that Glanbia teamed up with BCI to raise funds for the cause, with a donation made on every roll of the limited-edition pink silage wrap purchased. Farmers, by placing their pink-wrapped silage bales in visible locations on their farms, helped to raise awareness of breast cancer among those passing by. The campaign this year focused on the importance of good breast health. The latest figures from the National Cancer Registry (2019) estimate that on average 3,141 women are diagnosed with breast cancer annually and, while the figure is increasing, according to Professor Arnie Hill, this is a result of better awareness, screening and an increased population size.
Last year alone, Glanbia raised over €100,000 for BCI through the #PinkBales campaign, their Two Peaks Challenge and the Glanbia Ireland 300 cycle. This weekend, Glanbia and Avonmore will support the BCI Great Pink Run which takes place in the Phoenix Park Dublin on Saturday 19 October and in the Castle Park Kilkenny on the 20 November.
Last year 8,300 participants donned the pink t-shirt raising €503,000 for the charity, the oldest participant was 83 years of age.
Planning for improvements
BCI wants to offer translational therapies from waiting room to bedside for patients diagnosed.
Their aim this year is to focus on improvements in research that are changing the landscape. BCI’s outreach co-ordinators are covering all regions and are having a massive impact.
BCI is also helping to heighten awareness and education on the importance of breast health amongst women of all ages – earlier detection will save lives.
If in doubt…get it checked out!
Useful contact information
For more information on how to get involved in raising money for the new unit at Beaumont Hospital, see www.beaumontfundraising.ie
If you are now 50 or over you can register for BreastCheck by calling freephone 1800 45 55 55 or by visiting their website www.breastcheck.ie
www.cancer.ie – Freefone: 1800 200 700