Today I went for my routine Mammogram. Not the most comfortable of examinations, but infinitely preferable to learning in the future that I have cancer which could have been treated successfully if it had been detected earlier.

Nowadays breast cancer can be treated successfully if detected early enough and sometimes with far more sympathetic treatment than when I started nursing in the 1950s. Mammography was not then available so early diagnosis was rare and thus needed much more radical surgery and aggressive radiotherapy, often with very poor prognosis. I think some surgeons erred on the side of caution and very invasive surgery was the result.

Very often cancer was a forbidden word (even in hospital we always said carcinoma), but I do remember the story about one of my maternal aunts. She had found a lump in her breast and her doctor had sent her to hospital for further investigations. The Consultant told her that it was malignant and would need a radical mastectomy (the whole breast to be removed plus the glands under her arm) followed by a course of radiotherapy.

She astounded him by replying that she didn’t believe him. She told him that our family didn’t get cancer, they died from heart or lung disease or strokes not cancer. She thanked him for his time and walked out!

Her family were very worried but she was adamant and refused treatment. Six months later the lump was gone, I don’t know whether it was a misdiagnosis or some other force at work, but she died many years later, at a ripe old age, of a heart attack! 

I did get a boost this morning when one of the other ladies in the waiting room, who had just given her birthdate as 1956, leaned towards me and asked if it was my first time too? I didn’t tell her that I had been having them for 20 years!

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