Cheryl Morrow received her mammogram reminder the day New Zealand went back into lockdown last year. After fighting to get an appointment during lockdown she was screened six weeks later and a stage 1 cancer was found in her left breast. A first time host, she’s holding a Pink Ribbon Breakfast in Pukekawa and hoping to raise awareness of the importance of having mammograms.
On August 17 last year, I received a letter reminding me it was time for my mammogram. It was my 49th birthday and later that same day, we went back into lockdown due to the Delta outbreak.
I knew I needed to act and book that mammogram, otherwise it would fall to the wayside and I didn’t want to receive another letter a few weeks later telling me I was “overdue”.
Ten days later, I rang up to book but it was really hard to get an appointment. Despite everything else going on, I insisted I needed one. To me, Covid-19 was not a good enough excuse to stop me from having my scheduled mammogram.
My requests for an appointment was eventually granted rather begrudgingly and I had a mammogram six weeks later. The next day, I got a call from the Manukau SuperClinic to say the mammogram had detected something suspicious in my left breast.
I was examined by doctors - every man and his dog felt that lump. I hadn’t noticed or felt the lump as I had a frozen shoulder at the time.
It turned out to be a Stage 1 cancer, about 18mm in size. The news that the lump was cancer was hard to hear, especially having just turned 49. I was young and had no family history of the disease -it came as an absolute shock. But I couldn’t believe my luck that it was found at an early stage, despite the delayed mammogram.
If anything, the hardest part was knowing I had breast cancer, but not knowing what the plan was.
For four days, I tossed and turned, waking up in the night in tears over the future and milestone moments I feared I might have to miss out on because of the cancer: my daughter’s hens night, both children’s weddings, becoming a grandmother.
I thought of writing cards for them to read on these important occasions in case I couldn’t be there myself. The fear of not knowing, the uncertainty, was so upsetting.
After being diagnosed on a Friday, I returned the following Tuesday to discuss options with my medical team. I was prepared to say goodbye to both my breasts and have the surgeons “chop ‘em off”. But to my surprise, I was told that both a partial and full mastectomy held the same chances of the cancer returning. I chose the former.
My mammogram might have been delayed by the Covid-19 lockdowns, but it seemed to speed up my time to surgery. It felt like there was almost no time in between diagnosis and my partial mastectomy – all up, nearly two weeks, followed by a month of radiation in January. It wasn’t a pleasant experience – I was like a psycho, I had no filter and everything annoyed me, even my son! But I am all clear now and just need to have yearly checks.
I count myself very lucky, as I know other women from my support group who have had a horrific time with their treatments, especially on chemotherapy. Ultimately my experience of being treated for breast cancer was a positive one – the care provided especially by the nurses at the Manukau Superclinic couldn’t be faulted.
There was also the incredible support I had from the people around me, particularly my husband who was my rock. I didn’t worry about anything because he took all the worries away – nothing was a major.
I have two children, Charlotte who is 14 and Max who turns 12 in July, and we didn’t mention the “C” word to them – we just said there was a lump in mum’s breast. We didn’t want them to worry.
I’m hosting a Pink Ribbon Breakfast for the first time this year, and I’m thinking of either having it at my home or at the local hall in Pukekawa. It will be a classic bacon and eggs breakfast with the men on the barbecue with pink pinnies on!
Hosting allows me the opportunity to give something back by helping others and raising awareness for breast cancer. My cancer was found early and all in all, I was fortunate, but not everyone is. If I hadn’t have pushed and managed to get my mammogram when I did, who knows where I’d be now.
I want to encourage women to get checked, that they need to put themselves first. Even if it seems hard to get an appointment, insist you need one and don’t let anything stand in your way – it could be a matter of life or death. If there is cancer to be found, catching it early is always the best outcome, for both your physical and mental health and not to mention financially too!
For us women who are always busy, we need to put ourselves first, especially when it comes to our health and knowing what our options are.