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My breast cancer story: Judy's advice for other women

Judy smiles in a chair after recovering from breast cancer.
Judy's breast cancer was found at a routine breast screen.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women and it is estimated that over 18,000 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed amongst Australian women in 2018.

It is recommended that Queensland women aged 50 to 74 years participate in BreastScreen Queensland’s free breast screening program every two years. Most women receive the all-clear after their breast screen, but some are called back for further tests.

BreastScreen Queensland is part of the national BreastScreen Australia program that provides access to free and nationally accredited screening and assessment services, to eligible women every two years.

We spoke to Judy about how a routine breast screen led to a breast cancer diagnosis that saved her life.

What it’s like to find out you’ve got cancer

Judy Chatham was 58 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After having regular mammograms on advice from her doctor after a hysterectomy at 40, Judy’s diagnosis came as a shock.

“The mammogram process can be a little uncomfortable. You are topless and yes each breast is squeezed by the machine, but women are tough, a bit of boob squashing is nothing in the great scheme of life!

“My diagnosis journey, began with a call back for re-screening. This didn't alarm me, as a small breasted woman, I had been called back before, because it's harder to get clear pictures when you are a bit boob challenged.”

“BreastScreen Queensland did a scan and confirmed it was the dreaded C word.

“Everything went into slow motion and I felt I was walking through mud.”

Judy recalls the staff were wonderful and professional although she didn’t remember much they said due to being focused back on the giant C word.  

“I called one of my daughters as soon as I was able to and I downloaded to her. She reminded me today, that I apparently refused to call it cancer and told her from now on I will be referring to this as 'glandular fever'.”

Judy said support people are immensely important.

“I had a team of three, through the whole process.

“I learned very quickly to lean on others, not in my nature, but invaluable to the healing process. Remember your fight is against the cancer, not your dignity.

“Your support people have different gifts to bring to your journey, not everyone is good at dealing with the yucky stuff. Play to their strengths to get you through. There will be times when you don't have strength and you need theirs.

“The last thing, always take the same support person, (armed with notebook and pen), to your doctor appointments, to write down the information overload you receive with every appointment.”

Judy had a lumpectomy and a couple of lymph nodes removed to check if it had spread.

“After a second operation I then had several rounds of chemotherapy followed by a period of radiation treatments.”  

Judy is now a strong advocate for BreastScreen Queensland and encourages women to use the free service.

“I have lived in different places, some rural and fairly remote, but BreastScreen Queensland always came through, with a mobile mammogram unit, I always felt I had access to this wonderful service.

“The message I want to share is: Breast screening saves lives!”

Judy wants all Queensland woman aged 50 – 74 years to not only make a breast screen appointment but talk about it with their friends to ensure they are using this important service.

“Check among your friends and social networks to make sure everyone knows about breast screening.

“I was shocked to find women in my inner circle who had never had a mammogram. Have the conversation, this is about sharing and caring for each other.”

A woman receives her breast screen.

Need to book a BreastScreen?

It is recommended that Queensland women aged 50 to 74 years-old participate in BreastScreen Queensland’s free breast screening program every two years. The breast screen is fast, conducted by a female health professional and you don’t need a doctor’s referral.

There are 260 locations around the state and is easy to book an appointment online or over the phone by calling 13 20 50.

A breast screen (you might know it by the term ‘mammogram’) is an x-ray that can pick up small changes in breast tissue that are too small for you or your doctor to feel or see. This means it can help catch breast cancer in early stages increasing chances of survival and that treatment is less invasive.

You can read more about breast screening in Queensland and book your next appointment on the BreastScreen Queensland website.

Here are 5 reasons why you should book your breast screen.

See your doctor about any concerns

It is important to be aware of the normal look and feel of your breast. If you find a breast lump, nipple discharge or any breast changes that are of concern or you are experiencing any worry or anxiety about breast cancer, make an appointment to talk about it with your doctor.

Last updated: 27 November 2018