My mammogram: the most important 10 minutes of my life

JANUARY 30 this year was a real wake-up call for me.

Within minutes of each other that Friday morning, two women I knew died of breast cancer in Ballarat. 

One was a cousin, the other a teacher from my daughters' primary school. 

Both were married with children and both died young.These weren't the first women I knew to have battled breast cancer and they certainly weren't the youngest. 

In recent years, one of my sisters-in-law took on the battle and won as did several of my friends and work colleagues.

Whatever the reason, the deaths of my husband's cousin and my daughters' former teacher prompted me to make one of the most important phone calls of my life... I booked my first mammogram.

At almost 47, a mammogram was well due, although specialists recommend regular screenings for those aged over 50. I was just hoping it wasn't too late.

Related coverage:

Breast cancer: by the numbers

Breast screens: what you need to know

Deciding to book my first mammogram was easy...deciding to share my journey with the rest of the Ballarat community took a little more consideration. 

I was more than comfortable about going public about having a breast screen, but would my husband be happy about my mammogram photos and an accompanying video going into print and online?

I was fairly confident I knew the answer to that question before I even raised it with him. It was a definite yes and, he added, community education particularly in regional and rural areas about cancer and being pro-active rather than reactive, was important.

I'm not the first journalist to bare all in the name of community education about breast cancer and breast screening. 

Late last year, American ABC News journalist Amy Robach was diagnosed with breast cancer after having a mammogram on air as part of a story on the disease.

This heartbreaking story prompted Today show co-hosts Lisa Wilkinson and Georgie Gardner to do the same. 

Fortunately for the Australian journalists, their mammogram outcomes were favourable.

There was almost a month between making that initial call to BreastScreen and my appointment at 4.10pm on Tuesday, February 25. 

I must admit, I wasn't nervous about the mammogram until just before I was leaving the office to attend the BreastScreen Victoria building in Dana Street. 

As I was walking out the door, a work colleague said: "Good luck... it hurts". Well, Ms L, your statement couldn't be further from the truth... for me, anyway.

The whole experience (despite being aware there was a (female) work colleague behind me taking photographs and video footage) was quite relaxing and discreet. 

From the friendly, informative staff at BreastScreen to the radiographer who conducted the mammogram, the experience is something no-one should fear.

I didn't feel any pain... not even the slight discomfort I was warned about by the radiographer. 

And it only took 10 minutes of my time. But it was the most important 10 minutes of my life. 

Now the waiting game was on - anywhere between eight to 10 days before my results would be known. 

If I was lucky and nothing untoward was found, I would receive a letter from BreastScreen. 

If cancer or anything else unusual was detected, I would receive a telephone call requesting follow-up tests.

The two weeks between the mammogram and receiving my results seemed like two months. Every time I received a call on my mobile phone from a blocked number or someone I didn't know, my heart was in my mouth. 

Relief came on Tuesday this week when I took an envelop out of the letter box from BreastScreen.

"You will be pleased to know that following your attendance at our screening and assessment service your mammogram was independently reviewed by two clinical staff and the consensus was that there was no evidence of breast cancer," the letter read.

Phew, sheer relief.

The letter went on to state that screening mammograms detect about 90 per cent of cancers and I shouldn't need another screening until after I turn 50, as mammograms were considered to be effective for women over that age.

Having the negative diagnosis was a bonus for me. 

 What this exercise was really all about was education, providing awareness for not only the Ballarat community, but also myself.

Calling BreastScreen way back in late January was the best decision I have made.

I urge women out there to either book a mammogram or do regular breast self examinations. It just could save your life.

Visit www.thecourier.com.au to read about the figures on breast cancer.

kim.quinlan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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