The story of a mammogram: Part one.
This is a story of two parts.
The first part is the part you’re reading now. It’s after I’ve had my first mammogram and before I’ve received my results.
The second part comes later, when my results arrive. I have no idea what they’ll say. I have no idea how I’ll feel. So the second part is for later.
For now, I’ve kind of forgotten that I got topless in front of a work colleague who videoed my mammogram in its entirety, including the bits where my boobs were positioned on a slab by the radiographer in much the same way as a gourmet butcher would handle a fine piece of fillet. That is to say, with care and an enviable level of professionalism.
I can tell you this: yes, the women at BreastScreen New South Wales are both kind and gentle.
No, getting a mammogram doesn't hurt.
And yes, you should pay attention to the stats that say one in eight women in NSW will get breast cancer in their lifetime.
It’s not so long since I had dinner with college mates. It was in memory of our friend Jackie, who died 30 years ago after being diagnosed with breast cancer in her 20s - way, way too young. I can still remember feeling the hard lump in Jackie’s breast all those years ago, about the size of a golf ball, and her asking if she should get it checked.
Of course we said yes, but she developed secondaries and too soon, it was all too late.
And it’s only a couple of months since one of my favourite former workmates Nic popped up on Facebook, looking fabulous, with close-cropped hair and a huge grin.
It wasn’t just a haircut, though. Her post was short: ‘Cancer free. Celebrating. #girlsgetyourboobschecked’.
Here, in part one of my story, I just don’t believe I could be one of the unlucky ones. But Nic was. Jackie was.
So regardless of whether I am or not, and to quote Nic:
Girls, get your boobs checked.
Don't put it off. Don't be afraid. Just get it done. If you're over 50, contact BreastScreen NSW. The mammogram is free and takes about 20 minutes.
If you're under 50, talk to your doctor.
And if you're curious about exactly what happens, check out this video (warning: video contains boobs, nipples and a fair amount of back fat).
The story of a mammogram: Part two.
And so to the second part of my story.
My results - as promised - arrive two weeks after my mammogram.
My partner, who has never opened a letter addressed to me in his life, has opened this one by mistake and blabs out the result over dinner.
And that's how I find out my breast screen is clear.
I am relieved, but a bit closer to understanding what it must be like for women who receive different, darker news.
According to the Westmead Breast Cancer Institute, almost 16,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia every year. Most breast cancers would be life-threatening without discovery and treatment. But mammograms can detect cancers the size of a grain of rice, long before they can be felt by you or your doctor.
Look around you. Look at everyone and everything you love, including the partner who opened your mail.
And girls, get your boobs checked.
BreastScreen NSW can be contacted on 13 20 50 or 13 14 50 if an interpreter is required. You don't need a doctor's referral.
BreastScreen NSW is part of a national breast cancer screening program. It invites women aged between 50 and 74 for a free mammogram every two years (as this is the age bracket when the incidence of breast cancer is most likely to occur). Women aged between 40 and 49 (as well as those over 75) are also eligible to access the service.
BreastScreen aims to continue to reduce deaths from breast cancer through early detection of the disease. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. One in eight women in NSW will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Nine out of ten women who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of breast cancer. Breast screening can find cancers before they can be felt or noticed – a woman has a better chance of survival when breast cancer is found early.
Across NSW, only half of women aged 50 to 74 are having regular mammograms, despite the benefits of breast screening. BreastScreen NSW is actively working to engage more communities to increase the participation in screening for the early detection of breast cancer.
Listen: Jane McGrath's best friend Tracy Bevan explains how the McGrath Foundation began and the work it does.