Chance mammogram decision saved my life

Forty-five-year-old Co Armagh civil servant Mary Kate Doherty recently discovered purely by chance that she had breast cancer. To offer support to other women and to raise awareness of the importance of breast screening, the mother of two boys and two girls wrote to The Irish News – this is her account

A woman in 40s undergoing a mammography test – in Northern Ireland regular breast screening only normally happens when women reach 50

I'M NOT quite sure why I made that appointment on July 10 to have a mammogram but, boy, I'm glad I did. It was a mild Friday morning when I parked outside the Action Cancer headquarters on the Malone Road in Belfast for an appointment that I had booked online the previous week.

It took less than 10 minutes and I was back in work before 9.30am. I hadn't had any reason to self-refer – no lumps, bumps, nothing that caused me any concern. So I ticked that health check off my list.

I was entirely thrown then, when the following week I received a letter asking me to come for a repeat mammogram. Immediately suspicious, I called Action Cancer and asked them if there was any particular reason for me having to have the test redone. The lady I spoke to was very lovely and although she tried to reassure me, I wasn't biting.

After that, things sped up – lightening speed – and I was suddenly thrust into a very alien world that a lot of the time seemed to be outside of my reality.

I had a very swift appointment. Breast examination, shown my mammogram pics, which showed tiny white specks dispersed throughout the front part of my breast and had a

core biopsy. At this stage I was panicked.

When I spoke to my consultant he explained that it looked like "ductile carcenoma in situ". What? He said that it was a very treatable, very early stage cancer that was confined to the milk ducts. I was surprisingly lucid considering what I had been told and when I left his offices that day, I was confident that I knew exactly what I was facing, from worst to best-case senario.

I spent the following few days immersed in Google finding out all I could about this strange 'DCIS' which until that day I had never heard of. What I read assured me, sort of.

When I returned the following week for my diagnosis, I was cautiously optimistic. My name was called, I took my seat with my husband close by, my consultant walked in swiftly followed by a nurse. I glanced at my husband and thought, "Uh-oh, back up, this doesn't look good."

My consultant sat down and, unfortunately for me, it turned out to be worst-case senario. My DCIS was at a stage that surgery was my only option – a mastectomy, to be precise.

"OK," was my response. My mind then went to a place where I could hear and understand everything going on around me, but feel nothing. Possibly shock, I don't know.

That was on August 5. My surgery was delayed for a few weeks which allowed me to try to get my head around it. Then on September 4 I showed up at City Hospital at 7am to have my right breast removed. It was the loneliest period of time that I have even spent.

No-one could take this away from me; this was my single biggest challenge. My greatest comfort and relief was hearing from other women, some friends, some relatives who had gone through exactly the same thing. I thank God that these people rallied around me and shared their stories – their constant reassurance and positive thinking helped me through my dark moments.

If they could do it, then so could I. I'm now almost two weeks over my surgery, which was not at all as traumatic as I imagined it would be, and on Monday past my pathology reports came back clear.

My reason for writing this? It's good to talk, seek out those people who have faced or about to face this challenge. Educate yourself as much as possible so you are prepared, ask questions. Forewarned is forearmed. You're never truly alone.

What made me go for that mammogram? Who knows? But I like to think it was my guardian angel, my brother John. So maybe if you're reading this you'll make that appointment. It could save your life.

:: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Mary Kate would be happy to talk about her experience to women who may be waiting on or have had mastectomy surgery. She can be contacted at


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