A Ballymena woman who says she owes her life to early breast cancer detection by Action Cancer is urging others aged 40-49 or 70-plus to do as she did and book an appointment for the free breast screening service on the charity’s Big Bus.
Mary Allen, a mum of four who lives in the town with her husband Donald, had her cancer detected on board the Big Bus in November 2012 when she was 48.
She says: “I had heard about the Big Bus before so it was curiosity more than anything that prompted me to poke my head in the door. I had no signs or symptoms, no family history, nothing to be worried about.
“The radiographer on board the bus put me at ease explaining how the machine would take an X-ray of each of my breasts. I found the pressure of the mammogram slightly uncomfortable but it was all over in a matter of moments.”
Mary received a letter from Action Cancer a week later stating that something had been picked up in the screening and subsequently attended the Breast Clinic at Antrim Area Hospital for further investigation.
“I then had another mammogram, six biopsy samples were taken and a scan but I still wasn’t concerned,” she says.
The reality didn’t hit Mary until the doctor told her that the lymph nodes under her arm were swollen and that they would have to take more tissue away for testing.
Two small cancerous areas were detected which, after more biopsies, were found to be malignant.
Surgery involving a mastectomy followed in January 2013 when it was discovered that while the cancer had not spread into her lymph nodes, five would have to be removed as a precaution.
Mary says: “Things haven’t been easy but I have recently started reconstructive surgery to create a left breast which is helping me to move forward.
“Women have these breasts and take them for granted, it’s only when you lose one that you realise they are so important to you; to your femininity and confidence. I am, however, so thankful to Action Cancer for detecting my cancer early on. This early intervention meant that I did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy. I may have lost one of my breasts to cancer, but I am thankful that I haven’t lost my life to cancer, I am alive to tell the tale.”
“My message to all women is to be breast aware and check yourself regularly. Avail of a free breast screening from Action Cancer if you are aged 40-49 or 70 plus, it might just save your life. I’m convinced my decision to book an appointment on the Big Bus saved mine,” she said.