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Breast screening saved my life

Donata Fernandes was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2004. This is the story of how her cancer was found during routine breast cancer screening.

Invitation for a mammogram

I moved to the UK from Mumbai, India in the summer of 2004. My husband had been working here for 5 years. As my youngest daughter had just married, I finally decided it was the right time to join him. I registered with my local GP and about a month later got an invitation for a mammogram. Initially I didn’t want to go. In India you only have a mammogram if you have symptoms and I didn’t have any - I felt absolutely fine. I’d had a full medical check up to get my UK visa, so was sure there was nothing wrong. But by this time, I was working in my GP’s surgery and they advised me to go. A colleague was also due to have a mammogram, so we decided to go together.

My first mammogram

I went to a mobile unit near where I lived. The radiographer explained that I might have some pain with the procedure. She asked me to strip off to the waist and explained that my breast would be placed between two plates so an X-ray could be taken. It was a bit painful, but it was OK. I was told to expect the results in about a month. That was in September.

Getting the results

I hadn’t heard anything by the end of October, so I asked my GP to chase up my results. I didn’t know that a letter had already been sent asking me to go back for a second mammogram. My husband and I had just moved, so it had gone to our old address. Luckily, the hospital contacted my GP when I didn’t turn up for my second appointment. She called me and told me that I had to go for another mammogram, but this time at the hospital.

At the breast clinic

I was rather nervous going to the hospital, as I didn’t know what to expect. My husband was working that day and so he dropped me off and I made my way to the breast clinic. After the mammogram, a doctor examined my right breast. He felt a lump and asked me if I knew it was there. Well I hadn’t known, but I did then because of the pain as he pressed it! The doctor said he wanted to put a needle into the lump and draw out some fluid. I was confused and alone, but agreed he could do this as long as I could go home afterwards. He assured me that I could, then put a needle into the lump and drew out some blood stained fluid. After that, he checked the results of the second mammogram and told me there and then that I had cancer. I was really upset and couldn’t quite take it in. I asked the doctor to put it all in writing for me, to confirm what he had told me.

After my diagnosis

When I got home I rang everyone I knew and told them my terrible news. All I wanted to do was go back home to India. I couldn’t believe that this had happened to me after only 4 months of being in the UK. But when I told my daughter she said ‘no mum stay there, you’ll be fine’. In fact everyone reassured me that I would be fine and that I was in the best place to get my treatment.

I ended up having surgery and radiotherapy. I still take a hormone treatment - tamoxifen tablets. My cancer was found to be stage 1. My specialist told me I had every chance of successful treatment because the cancer had been found so early.

My treatment wasn’t always easy. Radiotherapy caused problems with the skin on my breast. I also suffered with depression. As someone who had always been busy and had lots of friends, it was difficult to face my illness in a new country without this support system. But with the help of the hospital staff and support from both the Asian Cancer Support Group and an outreach worker who works for MIND (National Association for Mental Health), I managed to get through. Now I am back at work and involved with a number of different charities.

Screening Matters

I am so grateful that I went along for the mammogram. It was my saviour! Because of my experiences I was asked if I wanted to help with the Cancer Research UK’s Screening Matters campaign. I was delighted to help, as I know firsthand the value of cancer screening. Through the campaign I have been interviewed on TV and gone to the Houses of Parliament. I would recommend that all women go for their mammogram when they are invited. It could save their life.

Factfile

  • The breast screening programme uses a mammogram to screen all women between 50 and 70 who are registered with a GP in the UK
  • You can ask to have a mammogram every 3 years if you are over 70
  • If you are at higher risk than average because you have a significant family history, you can talk to your GP about starting screening younger

More information

On our patient information pages there is more information about

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Updated: 28 September 2009