In South Australia, women aged 50-74 are encouraged to attend a free two-yearly breast screen with BreastScreen SA to help detect breast cancer early, resulting in better outcomes.
It was as a result of one of these scheduled mammograms that then 59-year-old Naracoorte local Decima McTernan received the news she never expected—she had breast cancer.
In May of 2016, after a visit to a BreastScreen SA mobile unit in my regional hometown, I received the fateful call at work “you will need to come to Adelaide to have some further tests, your recent mammogram has shown a potential irregularity. Don’t worry too much as most times these prove to be nothing”.
My first thought was panic and then I carried on at work, reminding myself of those words.
Luckily, I did not have long to wait as my appointment at BreastScreen SA was within in a few days, and, by then, I had convinced myself everything was going to be ok. I made the almost four-hour trip to Adelaide for my appointment and it was arranged that my test results would be sent to the duty doctor back home on the following Monday.
The week passed and I entered that doctor’s room, still convinced it was nothing as even with a biopsy, statistics were in my favour. Imagine my shock when the first words that came out of the doctor’s mouth were “you know of course that you have cancer”.
Thoughts tumbled around in my head, no I did not know that. He then talked about his own cancer journey and arranged for me to see a specialist within a week.
I went home and told my family, but what do you do after a diagnosis like that?
My daughter and I decided to get out of the house to take our minds off it and visited the local plant nursery. Wandering around numbly, I stumbled upon a rose named ‘Guardian Angel’. It seemed like such an omen that still makes me smile to this day when it flowers.
I chose to have my treatment in Adelaide, with an amazing doctor who I still see to this day. After a few trips to the city, I was scheduled for a partial mastectomy. This procedure was surprisingly simple, and I was allowed to travel home the next day.
Perhaps the most taxing part of my journey was what followed next, the many trips back and forth to Adelaide as my ongoing treatment was decided upon.
I had to live in Adelaide for eight weeks while I received treatment. My son wanted me to stay with him and he, along with his partner, were such positive influences. Treatment was five days a week, but on weekends they would take me out and celebrate each milestone like the first week down and then finally, that very last treatment. I am now at a point where I have a yearly visit to my doctor and a yearly mammogram.
A cancer diagnosis is hard, there is no point saying it isn’t, but there are some benefits. You will know who truly loves you, my husband, children, friends and work colleagues were wonderful, and it is a test of your own personal strength.
To those who don’t think mammograms are important I say this: if not for that visit to the BreastScreen SA van, I might not have seen my daughter get married in my own garden, or my gorgeous little granddaughter born. Have that test no matter how inconvenient. That lost half hour of your life, might mean you have a life!
Screening mammograms are currently the best method available for detecting breast cancer early, but they do not cure or prevent breast cancer from developing in the future.
If you are aged 50–74, have a mammogram (breast x-ray) at BreastScreen SA every two years. Despite two-yearly screening, it is important for all women to be ‘breast aware’.
Women aged 40-49 and over 75 can also screen for free with BreastScreen SA. However, they are encouraged to first speak with their GP to find out if breast screening is right for them.
Women of all ages should be familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts. If you notice any of the following changes, please see your doctor immediately:
- a lump, lumpiness, or thickening of the breast
- changes in the skin of a breast, such as puckering, dimpling, or a rash
- persistent or unusual breast pain
- a change in the shape or size of a breast
- discharge from a nipple, a nipple rash, or a change in its shape
For more information on breast cancer and being breast aware, visit: https://www.cancersa.org.au/cancer-a-z/breast-cancer/the-breasts-/