Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Breast cancer - trusting your instinct
Kylie Minogue has made a courageous statement about the initial misdiagnosis - perhaps more accurately, missed diagnosis - of her breast cancer. She tells how she was assured that she was 'fine' just weeks before being diagnosed with cancer.
It isn't easy to speak openly about one's personal encounter with cancer for a number of reasons: the story is never entirely personal because one's family and friends are affected; the successful survivor feels for those who were less fortunate so celebration is always tempered with sadness; most people experience tremendous support and care from their medical team and fear that speaking out about any negative aspects would make their gratitude seem false or would undermine the great work that they do.
Kylie's message should not be seen, therefore, as a criticism of the wonderful care she had but as a warning to women and to the medical profession that the diagnostic tools that are used are not foolproof. Instinct, intuition and fears should be taken seriously. Early-stage cancers do not always show up in mammograms but most of the women I have spoken to 'knew' they had breast cancer before the medics could detect it.
I went to see my doctor in December 1994 because I had found a breast lump. My doctor couldn't feel it and thought I was having empathetic symptoms because I was closely involved with a friend who was dying of breast cancer. He agreed to refer me to the hospital but he obviously didn't consider the case to be urgent because I didn't get an appointment until 10th January 1995. By the time I saw the surgeon, the tumour was the size of a tennis ball and urgent surgery was carried out the next day to remove it. Unfortunately the cancer had spread and two more lots of radical surgery followed and then a year of aggressive chemotherapy.
I don't normally speak about my experience because I am so grateful for the care I had from the surgeon and his specialist team, the Macmillan nurse and hospice staff who supported the whole family through a traumatic year and the continuing support they give me for the secondary lymphoedema that developed after the second operation. Had my GP acted more promptly things might have been different, we all know that early diagnosis and treatment offer the best chance of survival and usually involves less invasive treatment. I certainly don't blame him - I think doctors are wonderful and I know how difficult early diagnosis can be - also, he is a personal friend and I know how much he blames himself; but I know that he always errs on the side of caution now when patients suspect something might be wrong.
So well done, Kylie, for speaking out. I hope your honesty will encourage women to trust their instincts and to ask for further investigations if they are concerned.
For a bit of breast cancer awareness with an element of fun go and read Juliet's Tackled Pink post on Musings from a Muddy Island.