Jane urges women to get screened for breast cancer

A woman from Coventry who’s survived breast cancer twice is urging other women to get themselves screened.

Jane, an administrator in her 50s, lives in Coventry with her husband Harry, and their son, Lewis. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2010.

Jane said:
“I had already had one routine mammogram about 18 months before I was first diagnosed. It was clear. However, I have to admit, I didn’t check myself in between appointments, which I should have done, because things can change.

“I first thought something might be wrong when I started to feel tired all the time, and had pain in my breast. I put the tiredness down to the menopause, and we were having work done on our house, so I assumed when I found a lump, that I must have bumped myself.”

Three weeks later in the bath, Jane could feel that the lump was still there. She went to her GP for an examination and was sent an appointment to be seen at University Hospital in Coventry for assessment, mammogram and a biopsy the following week.

Jane’s worst fears were realised when she was diagnosed with a large aggressive tumour, which had also spread to over half the lymph nodes near her breast. Regular screening will pick up most cancers. However, because the tumour Jane had was so aggressive, it had developed and grown quickly in between her screening appointments.

She said:
“It was a massive whirlwind. I was so devastated, I couldn’t even speak to the doctor.”

Jane needed four months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumour before she could have surgery. This was successful, but because the cancer had spread, she needed a full mastectomy and reconstruction, followed by radiotherapy. She also participated in one of the many clinical trials run at University Hospital. Luckily, Jane’s family were there to support her throughout.

Jane explained:
“As well as the staff at the hospital, Harry and Lewis, and my sister Julie were amazing. Lewis was studying for GCSEs at the time and was doing his exams in the day, and then seeing me in hospital."

After finishing treatment, Jane had yearly breast screening. Everything was clear until January 2015.

The day before she was due to jet off to New York for a special family holiday for husband Harry’s 60th birthday, Jane got a letter telling her to come back to the hospital. She decided not to spoil the holiday by telling the family, but their flights coming back were cancelled because of a snowstorm, meaning she’d miss her appointment, and she had to tell Harry.

Sadly, another biopsy confirmed their fears. This time, Jane was diagnosed with a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in her other breast. DCIS is the most common type of breast cancer. It is non-invasive and usually responds well to treatment. However, Jane was again knocked sideways by the diagnosis.

She said:
“I was so low. I always tried to stay positive, but I couldn’t believe it was happening to me again.

“The doctors told me there was no connection between the two cancers – it sounds blasé, but it really was incredibly bad luck. I was also reassured that the second time was going to be very different from the first.

“I cannot express how wonderful the care was both times I was treated at University Hospital. They saved my life, and kept reassuring me that it was treatable.”

After a lumpectomy, Jane had three weeks of radiotherapy. She’s made a full recovery and has continued to attend her yearly screening appointments.

Jo Bailey, Breast Screening and Health Promotion Nurse at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, said:
“We offer free mammograms to all women aged between 50 and 70. Jane’s story shows why it’s so important to attend screening, and to check your breasts in between appointments. If you have any changes in your breasts please see your GP straight away; this could include a lump, change in skin texture, nipple discharge, rash or crusting and any change in appearance or direction of the nipple.

“Jane went for mammograms as soon as she was offered them, but we do find that a lot of women don’t attend. This could be because they’re busy with work or family and think it can wait, or because they’re worried about any discomfort or embarrassment.

“Our staff will take great care of you, and with the new breast screening unit at the City of Coventry Health Centre, it’s now even more convenient to fit screening into busy lives.”

Jane said:
“I’ve always kept myself really fit and healthy. I’d just done the Great North Run when I was first diagnosed, and it shows that cancer can happen to anyone. I had such low points, but it is treatable, and I had such amazing people at University Hospital looking after me, and incredible support from my family and friends.

“I’d urge other women to attend all their screening appointments, and check themselves once a month. It’s probably the most important thing you’ll ever do – a matter of minutes could save your life.”

Every 3 years, women aged between 50 and 70 will receive an invitation through the post when their GP practice is due for breast screening. There is also a national age expansion trial inviting some women aged 47 – 50 and 70 – 73.

Visit http://www.bscreen.org.uk/Coventry  for more details.