11 May 2018
Sharon Swaine, a 70-year-old Port Augusta local and mother of two, knows all too well that regular breast cancer screening saves lives. This is Sharon’s message to mums and daughters this Mother’s Day.
Our family has always been close. Before I retired in Port Augusta in 1999, we led a bit of a nomadic lifestyle, moving from our home of Adelaide to New South Wales where my kids were born, then on to the Northern Territory where I met my current partner Trevor. I got to live in so many places throughout the country, and experience it all with the kids, Megan and Brett, by my side. They now live in Queensland, and Megan has two teenagers of her own. It’s on the other side of the continent, but we make an effort to take the caravan up to see them every year, and speak on the phone at least once a week.
So when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, after having my regular two-yearly mammogram through the mobile BreastScreenSA bus, picking up the phone for support from the family was my first reaction.
It was early January last year, and I’d received the letter confirming my appointment. I’d gone through the process so many times before that I didn’t give it much thought at all, until I received a phone call the following Wednesday from a nurse. She asked me how soon I could come to Adelaide, and I thought that it was convenient that I was already going there in a few weeks.
“No,” she said, “you’ll need to come immediately”.
That’s when the doctor showed me the mass on my right breast.
I remember having a lump in my throat. It was such a shock because I hadn’t even considered that something might be really wrong. But I took a deep breath, then took a look around and thought, ‘I’m in the right place for this’. After a few more tests and biopsies I was diagnosed as having an invasive ductal carcinoma, about five millimetres in size. I was advised to have breast conserving surgery, which I did on 9 February 2017.
I remember making that phone call to Megan. She asked if I wanted her to come down, and said that she didn’t know what to do. She was more panicked than I was. It’s not that it wasn’t a frightening time, but I knew I was in good hands and had Trevor by my side.
Cancer can be equally as stressful for loved ones as well as the person directly affected, and I wanted to be with everyone to reassure them that I was okay. I went to Queensland a month later, and it was so relaxing to just surround myself with the people I love and forget about the diagnosis. Time like that reminds you of what’s important in life.
Prevention has naturally become a topic that we’ll talk about very openly. Getting to know your family history is also important, because a small percentage of breast cancers are thought to be linked to genetic factors. Emily, my granddaughter, is particularly active, asking lots of questions, wanting to know the ins and outs of everything—how I was diagnosed, what the treatment was, and what she can do to be breast aware.
I think that’s what made it even scarier when the results came through—just how quickly it develops, and how you might not notice anything at all. Self-screening is important, but not a catch-all. My cancer was in my milk duct and behind my nipple, so I couldn’t feel it with palpitation. It’s a common misconception that you’ll always be able to feel it if you’re vigilant, but it’s not always the case.
My advice to every mother out there would be to stop putting off a quick mammogram which could save your life. We lead such busy lives, that it can be easy to justify these checks slipping down the list of priorities.
Take a moment to think about what’s important—it’s one quick appointment that could be the difference between seeing your kids and grandkids grow up, or missing it.
That, and don’t ever get complacent. The one that found the lump was my eleventh mammogram. I have them every two years, but it just goes to show that you have to be so careful and make sure that you go as recommended. Missing one appointment means I might have missed the cancer altogether.
Cancer Council SA recommends two-yearly mammograms for women aged 50 and over. Women who have a family history of breast cancer can begin mammograms at age 40. The BreastScreen Bus will visit Naracoorte, Murray Bridge and Keith in May. For more information on mammogram screening for your location or to book an appointment, you can call BreastScreen SA on 13 20 50. For information and support, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.