It’s never too soon to check.
The statistics on breast cancer rates are frightening as, in Ireland, one in nine women will be diagnosed with the disease at some time in their life. The good news is that 4 out of 5 women with the disease will survive and continue to live long and productive lives. One startling figure however is that, of the 3,700 women who will receive a breast cancer diagnosis this year, over 1,000 of them will be under the age of 50. As BreastCheck Ireland starts screening women from the age of 50 this means these women are only diagnosed when they are symptomatic, often leading to poorer outcomes, unless they have been vigilant and found early evidence of abnormality themselves.
If you are a 44 year old, healthy and fit vegetarian, who rarely drinks alcohol and has never smoked, you might think your need to be vigilant is not so important. After all you are doing all the right things to keep yourself healthy, how likely is it that it will happen to you? Well as Anna Kasperowicz can tell you – it can happen to anyone. “Even though no one in my family, either on my mother’s or father’s side, had cancer, my mother always insisted that I was vigilant about checking myself every month. Thanks to her it became a habit in my life so even through I was keeping all the risk factors low I did it every month, just in case. In September 2020 Anna found a lump. She waited another month of her cycle to make sure it wasn’t a temporary swelling before going to the doctor. As it was during COVID and GP’s surgeries were busy Anna contacted her gynaecologist in Dublin, within a week she had her diagnosis – Stage 1, Grade 1 breast cancer.
Of course it was a huge shock. “When something like this happens to you it’s very hard to take in. At this time you see professors, oncologists, doctors and nurses and you receive so much information. While I have lived in Ireland for 16 years now and my English is very good I found it hard to understand and remember everything they said. It was a very anxious and confusing time for me and my husband Janusz. Everyone was so kind and supportive through. Professor Keane in Galway told me that, because I had found it early, he was sure the follow-on tests and results would all be good. He and I were both delighted when he was right!”
Thanks to her vigilance Anna’s cancer was found early, removed quickly and treatment could be kept to radiotherapy and hormone therapy only i.e. no need for chemotherapy. Anna attended University Hospital Galway for her radiotherapy. As she lives in Sligo and the radiotherapy sessions took place daily over 4 weeks, she stayed at Inis Aoibhinn, the lodge owned and run by Cancer Care West on the hospital grounds. Richard Keane, an oncology nurse at the lodge, said “We look after a number of young women with breast cancer here every year. For many the prognosis and treatment is much more difficult as the cancer is more advanced when found. Thankfully Anna was aware of what she should do and conscientious about doing it. As a result her treatment was brief and less invasive and it wasn’t long before she was ringing the ‘End of Treatment’ bell. Even through her treatment followed COVID guidelines and was interrupted by the cyber attack on the HSE, she was such a positive and happy person to be around. We will miss her here but are thrilled to see her get back to her daily life.”
Now Anna is looking forward to when she can travel back to Poland to hug her mother and thank her. It was through her insistence that Anna developed the routine habit of checking her breasts regularly and ultimately this was to lead to such a great outcome. Anna, Janusz and their son Patrick are looking forward now but Anna wants to spread the word “No matter who you are and what your lifestyle, know the symptoms and check yourself regularly”.