Lauren Booth is calling for women 50 and over to get regular breast checkups.
She said a checkup she had in June saved her life after a mammogram at a BreastScreen NSW van at Wattle Grove detected cancer.
She wasn’t showing any symptoms, she couldn’t feel a lump in her breast and she didn’t have an inkling that something was wrong – she just went in because the van had stopped at her neighbourhood.
The van’s visit was convenient but Lauren was still well aware of the importance of regular checkups. She had an aunt who had breast cancer in her 40s and a close friend who’s currently struggling.
“Although my parents didn’t have it, I knew because my aunt had breast cancer it still counted as close family history. And that’s why I had a mammogram at 45, too,” she said.
“When I was on Facebook I saw the BreastScreen van had come to Wattle Grove and it had been a few years since my last scan. So I called and made an appointment.
“A couple of weeks later I got a letter requesting I come into the breast-screening clinic at Liverpool to have another breast screen and ultrasound. They found I had a lump in my breast which was quite a surprise.
“It’s been a very stressful and scary experience but I’ve been exceptionally lucky it’s turned out well. Breast cancer can turn your life upside down and early detection is the key to surviving it. It’s a high chance you can survive it if it’s detected early. I’m not exaggerating when I say I owe my life to breast screening.”
Although doctors told her the tumour was aggressive, it was difficult to determine how long it had been there – with the possibility it had been growing for up to a year.
Lauren had surgery to remove the tumour about three weeks ago. On Facebook, she posted on a Neighbourhood Watch group about her experience to help raise awareness.
“I spent my 50th birthday sitting in the breast-screen clinic all day having a follow-up and biopsy. I told my friends it was the worst birthday ever but I’ve realised it was in fact the best birthday because it saved my life.
“If you haven't seen the doctor for a while, check your blood pressure, blood sugar, have a mammogram or a pap smear. Get off your bums and go do it. It might save your life, too.”
Lauren said getting the bad news was quite an emotional experience. But it also led to a new-found love for life.
“The first thing I thought when the doctor told me was ‘I’m never going to make it to London!’ I’ve always wanted to go back and that’s the first thing I thought of. But now it’s on my to-do list before I get too much older, I’m not going to miss out.
“When you’re told you have cancer it hits you like a sledge-hammer and some people go into denial and don’t want to talk about it. But it’s important to talk. It might be hard but you need to stay positive and realise there are always people worse off.”
She said regular health checkups were something many people neglected these days with our busy lifestyles, but it’s key to our survival.
And she’s talking from experience – the doctor told Lauren if she’d waited until she could feel the lump it could’ve been a stage 4 cancer by then.
“It made me realise we’re not invulnerable, we’re only human and we do get sick and we should take time to look after ourselves. When we have families and partners sometimes we don’t look after ourselves and that’s not good.”
Lauren said it’s also important to have a good support network during the process.
“It’s just me, my husband and our dog. We were both pretty shocked when we heard the news and there was a stage where we didn’t know if the cancer had spread or not so we were unsure of what our future was going to be. But now we have the results, which have been good, so we’re pretty relieved.”
Last week marked her first week back at work since the operation as a care worker and gardener at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre.
“I love what I do but I still need to have radiation. I have to get radiation every day for several weeks. I’ll certainly be going for regular checkups from now on. It’s what we all need to do.”
- BreastScreen mobile van coming to Cabramatta October to December. Details: breastscreen.nsw.gov.au.