I've been thinking about my Mum a lot recently. A couple of days ago I saw a news report (based on a Cancer Research report) which showed that more than three-quarters of women diagnosed with breast cancer now survive their disease for at least ten years or more and almost 2 out of 3 women now survive their disease beyond 20 years. This is all fantastic news, and of course detecting the cancer in its early stages means survival rates are even better.
Yesterday when I was out shopping I saw a woman who looked, in profile, just like Mum. So much so, that I thought for a split second that it was her. In that split second she was out shopping and I had bumped into her. Of course a split second is all it takes to realise that Mum died three years ago and our shopping trips are over.
The sad thing is that Mum died a premature and - I believe - unnecessary death.
Her original diagnosis of breast cancer had come in October 2005 when she was told the cancer was advanced and she would have to have a mastectomy. It was only at that stage that she told me what was happening. In January 2007 I went with her to see a specialist and she received the news that we'd dreaded. The cancer had spread to her liver and spine. She died just six weeks later, at home, with her family around her.
Last month I found what appeared to be a small breast lump and went to see my GP the next day, who then referred me onto the hospital for a mammogram and appointment with a breast specialist. As I waited to see the specialist I realised I was sitting outside the same office, in the same chairs, as I had with my Mum before she'd received her devastating news. Happily, my diagnosis was better - it was a harmless cyst that would disappear of its own accord.
It was only after my Mum's death that I discovered she had missed several appointments for breast screening, despite getting reminders and despite a friend's encouragement to attend. Mum was a very private and modest person, and she told her friend that she was 'too embarrassed' to go, but if she had kept those appointments she might still be alive today. If only I had known about the missed appointments, if only her friend had been successful, if only she had attended. If only.
By the time the cancer was discovered Mum had three grape-sized cancerous lumps, which would have been picked up earlier at one of those missed appointments.
I miss my lovely Mum every single day, and the fact that she should still be here makes it more difficult to deal with.
This is a very long way of saying please check your own breasts and see your GP if you have any concerns. And please, please encourage your own Mum, sister, cousin or friend to get any unusual signs or symptoms checked out.
There is more information on these websites:
Cancer Research UK