"Time is of the essence and the more we can raise awareness of the importance of checking your breasts for any changes, and going to the doctor if you have any concerns; the closer we come to beating this disease. We are not going to stop until everyone knows how to check themselves."
These were the inspiring closing remarks from Michelle McManus at an event held in Stornoway to launch the local Breast Cancer Awareness campaign.
Around 180 women across the Western Isles, ranging from school pupils to more mature ladies, took advantage of the opportunity to learn about breast care, breast cancer awareness and the importance of self checking, when they attended events held by NHS Western Isles last week, fronted by popular singer and presenter, Michelle McManus.
Whilst the Scottish celebrity (who performed some musical numbers on request at some of the events) was key draw for many who attended, the full agendas also attracted excellent attendance. Expert NHS staff provided sessions on how to be breast aware and how to self check, and local women who had experienced breast cancer gave personal, touching accounts of the physical and emotional journeys they had been on. In Barra on Tuesday (October 2), the local Learning Disabilities Group helped out with events during the day, and an informal information session held at Cobhair Bharraigh in Castlebay in the evening was equally as well received.
A Detect Cancer Early 'nail bar' was set up during a session in Stornoway on Thursday (October 4), kindly provided by Cosmetology students in Lews Castle College. Members of the Lewis and Harris Breast Cancer Support Group were also on hand to provide advice and support in Stornoway and delicious pink cupcakes and cookies, provided by the Caladh Hotel, were available at all the events to mark the 'wear it pink' theme for breast cancer awareness.
Following the main session in Stornoway, a special session was held for school pupils and college students, which over 50 young ladies attended. During the sessions, attended by pupils from the Nicolson Institute, studen nurses and students from the University of the Highlands and Islands, Macmillan breast and lymphoedema nurse Hazel Hebditch provided a session on how to examine your breasts and also spoke to girls on an individual and group basis to provide answers to questions.
Speaking in Stornoway at the main event, local woman, Diane Macleod, who was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, gave a very touching and memorable account of how she discovered she had breast cancer, after finding a lump. She went to the doctor about a week after finding the lump, but wasn't overly concerned, and when she was given an appointment at Raigmore Hospital a few weeks later, she travelled alone to Inverness for a mammogram and a scan.
"When they called me back I was expecting them to tell me it was a cyst," she recalled. "She told me they were 99% sure it was breast cancer. It was a huge shock, I never expected to hear that."
The worst part of the process for Diane was making the phone call to her family to tell them the result. A biopsy confirmed that Diane had breast cancer and, on her return home, Macmillan breast and lymphoedema nurse Hazel Hebditch provided vital support, information and advice.
Diane explained that she had to have a mastectomy, and she also had a very successful reconstruction operation, so her outcome was positive.
Diane, however, admitted that she hadn't been checking her breasts as she should have been and that the lump could have been there for some time. She therefore urged women to become familiar with their own bodies and to check themselves regularly.
NHS Western Isles Senior Charge Nurse, Mairi Campbell (Barra) and Macmillan breast and lymphoedema nurse Hazel Hebditch (Stornoway) each provided informative sessions for women at the events, on how to check their breasts.
"Whatever your age, size or shape, it's really important to take care of your breasts," Hazel explained. "Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and it's very treatable if it's found early."
Visit http://www.nhsinform.co.uk/Screening/breast/bebreastaware for information on how to check your breasts.
NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson, who opened the event in Stornoway, said: "Cancer is the number one fear for the British public, ahead of debt, Alzheimer's, losing their job and knife crime. It's also one of these things that we always think will happen to someone else. In fact, the odds of developing cancer are one in three. One of the major issues in Scotland is the late presentation of cancer, and the consequences of that can be devastating. It's so important that people are aware of what is normal for them, how to check themselves, and to have the courage to come forward to get checked by a healthcare professional if they have any concerns. Early detection and treatment are the main keys to fight cancer and to ultimately save lives."
He added: "We are very grateful to the individuals and groups who have made these events such a resounding success, including Michelle McManus, Diane Macleod, Lews Castle College students, the Lewis and Harris Breast Cancer Support Group, NHS staff, those who helped with arrangements in Barra, and the Caladh Hotel in Stornoway. The real success of these events is in the fact that women across the Western Isles of all ages are now much more breast aware, know what to look out for and that they should go to the GP if they notice any changes in their breasts.
"Feedback from events in both Barra and Stornoway has been extremely positive, with practical sessions found to be particularly useful.