The best Christmas present you can give yourself is keeping your BreastCheck appointment. That’s the advice 52-year-old Eilish Hayes has for the women of Ireland.
It is a year since the Cork native’s life was rocked by a cancer diagnosis. But Eilish knows that if it wasn’t for the screening service, things could have been a lot worse.
“I am one of the lucky ones because my cancer was detected very early. I had absolutely no symptoms but I got my letter to go to my BreastCheck screening and went along. I hate to think what would have happened if I had just ignored it,” she says.
Eilish admits that she skipped her first appointment with BreastCheck but is on a mission now to get every woman in Ireland to get a BreastCheck mammogram when they get invited.
“I firmly believe that it was getting screened and picking the cancer up in its early stages that saved my life. The tumour was so deep in my breast that it is unlikely that I would ever have felt a lump and got it checked,” she explains.
“Because I had no symptoms and felt as young and healthy as ever, it was tempting to ignore the second appointment that I got. But I had the day off work so decided to go along to the mobile unit in Bantry.”
After her screening, she got a letter from BreastCheck asking Eilish to attend hospital in Cork for a second mammogram and biopsy, where it was discovered that she had a tumour in her left breast.
“I knew something must be wrong when I heard back so soon, it was less than a week after my appointment. When I heard the word cancer, the shock was like someone punched me in the face. I just broke down crying, your mind goes into overdrive. The first thing I thought of was my long blonde hair. It sounds silly but that was all I could think about in that moment,” says Eilish.
Things then moved very quickly for Eilish. “It was a rollercoaster for me but I was lucky that they could then work very fast to decide on my treatment.”
By mid-December, just a few weeks later, Eilish had the tumour and a lymph node removed.
“It was awful waiting for the results but the relief was unreal when I heard that the cancer hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes. That shows how important it was to catch it early.”
Eilish then started 12 sessions of chemotherapy early in the new year, followed by radiation therapy. Her treatments finished at the end of June.
She is full of praise for the staff at the South Infirmary Hospital in Cork and Cork University Hospital where she also attended. “They reassure you. They say that no question is a stupid question and they bring you through it as best they can. They were so helpful and had counsellors to go through everything with you.”
Losing her long hair was very difficult for Eilish, who chose not to wear a wig. “I now have the hair back and it’s curly and wavy. It’s mad as I’ve never had curly hair in my life. And it’s so thick and healthy too.”
She is full of praise for her sisters and her three children who live in the UK. “I’m very close to the kids– they are my whole life. And I have two grandchildren Elliot and Adam who I just adore. I am lucky to have such a fantastic family who are always there for me.”
Eilish has just had her latest check-up and will have another one in 12 months.
She admits that it has been a tough year but she is emerging out the other side of it full of positivity and energy.
“I am a very bubbly person but there were plenty of times during the year that I had bad days, when I was fed up, angry, sad, or simply didn’t want to see anybody. But it’s all normal and it does pass. The breast is still very tender and I am still quite tired but I’m getting there. I am back at work now and I’m looking forward to a great Christmas with my family and many more to come that I might never have had,” she says.
“I want to encourage every woman who gets a letter to please go for a mammogram. It’s free. I won’t lie, it’s a bit uncomfortable but it’s only for a short amount of time. I do not know where I would be today or how it would have progressed if I had not gone for mine. If they catch it early, they can help you to get through it.”
If you notice any symptoms or changes in your breasts, or are worried about any breast problem and have not received a BreastCheck appointment, you should go and see your GP (family doctor) without delay.
To sign up now or check if you are on the register go here
For more information freephone 1800 45 45 55 or go to www.breastcheck.ie