This is WAY off topic but just so important so bear with, bear with...
Last year, a friend of mine told me about Action Cancer NI and their free mammogram screening for women aged 40-49 (NHS screening starts at age 50). We had a mutual friend whose cancer was found at age 50 on her first NHS mammogram. Had she been screened at a younger age, she may not have had to endure the treatment she did (thankfully all is good with her now, but it was a long, tough battle).
Anyway, the screening was in the back of my mind and as you do, I kept putting it off and putting it off. Until the team at Action Cancer got in touch and asked me to help promote one of their events. I was starting to get the sense that some other force was encouraging me to get my act together so back in February, I made my appointment online. Really simple to do...I was able to secure an appointment the following week and there were regular email and text alerts to remind me of the date and time and offering me the option to re-arrange if necessary.
The screening takes place at the Action Cancer head office on the Malone Road/Marlborough Park (and also on the mobile Big Bus - which travels around the province), so I headed there a couple of weeks back to have the procedure done. I was really nervous - I'll not lie. I'm very squeamish when it comes to medical stuff and I wasn't looking forward to having my boobs squashed flat four times. But I focussed on the bigger picture and the fact that the appointments are 10 minutes apart so it was sure to be a fast procedure.
I was brought into a small reception area and given a short questionnaire to complete, which asked the usual personal information/medical history.
Then I was brought through to the consulting room with a female radiographer and all I had to do was slip my top and bra off and stand in front of the machine. The radiographer assisted me throughout the process which involves two images taken of each breast. Each image takes about 10-15 seconds and the machine automatically releases the breast once the image has been secured.
Was it painful? In my case, I'll be honest and say yes..though only for the briefest of moments. Now this is not always the case and I know some friends for whom it didn't hurt at all. It can depend on the time of the month and just generally your pain threshold. In any case, the pain did not sustain beyond the procedure itself though I did feel a little lightheaded for a while afterwards so once I got home, I had a huge coffee and a wagon wheel (or 2). I can recommend this remedy for most days - not just the ones you have a mammogram on :)
So - now for the practicalities. Action Cancer offers this service free of charge to women between the ages of 40 & 49 and those aged over 70. Between 50-70, you are eligible for NHS screening in your local health board. Now each mammogram does cost the charity £80 so you are invited to make a voluntary donation (of any amount) if you are able to. It's all very discreet - you're given an envelope and you can pop it in a box en route out of the screening room so it's genuinely whatever you can afford.
Despite diagnosing about 6 cancers from every 1000 tests carried out, Action Cancer receives no government funding for this work at all and relies solely on donations.
Women aged under 40 are not offered mammograms as there is no evidence to show that they're beneficial in this age group - younger breast tissue is more dense and it's harder to pick up abnormalities. However, if you have a concern and you're aged below 40, your GP can refer you for appropriate investigations.
But there's another fabulous way to support the charity - one I wholeheartedly approve of! Action Cancer have revolutionised the charity shop concept with their 'boutiques' and I've been in two of them in recent weeks and they are amazing! The Something Different shop on the Lisburn Road has been a regular haunt of mine since December as I trawl Belfast for quirky bits and pieces for our new home. It's a treasure trove of vintage furniture, decorative items, clothing and books/records with very reasonable prices.
Then I discovered that there's a new clothing store in Lisburn that's been fitted out in a similarly quirky/vintage way. It looks nothing like your usual charity shop with trend-driven merchandising, lots of mannequins, fabulous wallpaper and spacious changing rooms.
AND it's the store where I found a Burberry Mac, which you will have seen if you follow the Facebook page.
So if you want another way to fund this incredible service, do a massive wardrobe clear out and bring it down to your nearest Action Cancer shop... There are 17 in total across NI and while you're there, pick up some new bits and pieces. It's a win/win.
8 days later my letter arrived and I'm happy to report that my mammogram results were normal.
Cue a huge sigh of relief....but a huge sense of how worthwhile the process is for peace of mind. How blessed we are to have such a service available to us free of charge?
I hope this (slightly curveball) piece is helpful...please PM me or leave a comment if you've any questions at all and if I can't answer them, I'll pass them on to someone who can. In the meantime, if you're in the vicinity of Hillsborough Forest Park on Saturday, Action Cancer are holding a Mother's Day walk for all the family - full details on this link.