I am an idiot.
I’ve been dangerously complacent about my health.
Despite being in a high-risk category for cancer, I haven’t had a mammogram for almost eight years.
Examining my breasts is done irregularly and improperly (and I don’t mean while wearing nipple tassels…)
And, apparently, I’m not the only one.
While most of us know someone who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer, a mere 23 per cent of Australian women, “undertake adequate detection steps”, according to a landmark national survey released today.
Among those at high-risk, only one-third examine themselves monthly, with 20 per cent “rarely or never” doing so.
In recent years, two dear friends have been diagnosed: both found lumps, in each case, early.
Watching these women grapple with the effects of treatment, while raising young children, is heartbreaking, which is why I agreed to film a ‘bare all’ documentary about a disease which, I believe, needs to be re-framed.
Watch the documentary below. Post continues after video.
Despite the millions of dollars raised each year in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, most women still think it won’t happen to them.
There are many reasons, from visceral to sacrificial. I gather my dearly beloved for a round table talk about our tits, and this is what I discover: As every woman is different, so is every cancer.
“I’m frightened about what might be found in there,” one friend confides.
“Look, I’m just too busy, with the kids, and work, I don’t have the time,” sighs another.
“Gah, pancake boobs! Don’t mammograms hurt like hell? No way,” a third laughs.
Annette Odgers, 49, found a lump in her breast at the age of 28, while 10-weeks pregnant.
“I was told it was either me or the baby,” she remembers. Annette lost her baby.
Despite undergoing a lumpectomy, she was diagnosed with a second cancer in the same breast: this was initially missed on a 2D mammogram.
Testing showed she carried the BRCA 1 gene.
“If I had that gene in my family, I’d chop my tits off tomorrow,” my friend Lisa says over dinner, with characteristic candour.
Half of my family has been killed by cancer, with Mum and Granddad suffering from pancreatic: this too is linked with BRCA1.
Like many women in their 40s, I have dense breasts; in traditional 2D mammography, cancers can be missed because of overlapping tissue.
So, my doctor writes a referral for Genius 3D mammography, which detects 41 per cent more invasive breast cancers.
It examines the tissue layer by layer, in 1mm ‘slices’, like turning the pages of a book.
I agree for it to be filmed; it doesn’t hurt a bit; and the images are extraordinary.
“Like a huge boob planet with a nipple on the side!” our son, Taj, marvels, upon seeing the x-rays.
Fortunately, I’m clear. But breast cancer remains the most common cancer in women, and the second highest cause of cancer-related death.
But if you find it early, the survival rate after five years is 96 per cent.
As we stand at the edge of Sydney Harbour, filming the last link for the documentary, a young woman walks up.
Sara is on her way to get “new nipples!” in the words of her four-year-old boy, Oliver.
She had a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 33.
Her advice? “Be aware of your family history. Do something about it.”
I’m sorry to say, it can happen to you. Don’t be an idiot.
You are at high risk if you:
- Notice any breast changes or lumps
- Have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer
- Were previously diagnosed with breast disease
- Have dense breasts (eg. women in their 40s)
- Require further assessment after an inconclusive 2D mammogram.
Talk to your doctor about Genius 3D Mammography. Information about breast cancer detection methods is available at www.breastdetection.com.