Routine cancer test saved Hartlepool mum’s life – don’t put your appointment letter in the bin

Kathryn O'Kane, who wants people to be aware of the importance of mammograms.
Kathryn O'Kane, who wants people to be aware of the importance of mammograms.

A BRAVE mum who owes her life to a routine cancer test is urging other women to be screened as one in four fail to get regular checks.

Kate O’Kane says the breast mammogram test saved her life after it picked up the tiny cancerous lump in the centre of her breast tissue.

Kathryn O'Kane, who wants people to be aware of the importance of mammograms.

Kathryn O'Kane, who wants people to be aware of the importance of mammograms.

The early detection meant that the married 59-year-old, from Clifton Avenue, Hartlepool, went from being diagnosed with breast cancer to being cancer free within just one month.

Figures show that 25 per cent of women who are offered mammograms fail to have the procedure done.

And after learning that some of her friends have ignored or binned their breast screening invitations out of fear, embarrassment or inconvenience – Kate wants to spread the importance of the life-saving test and urge all women to have the check.

Kate, who has three children and six grandchildren, said: “The mammogram test saved my life basically.

“The doctors said that if I hadn’t gone for the breast screening then two years down the line when it had grown and I could feel it, then the worst could have happened, or at the very least I’d have had to have my breast removed.

“I could have been innocently walking around thinking I was fine - it’s very scary.

“When I found out about me having breast cancer, I spoke to friends who told me that they’d had letters but had put them in the bin. I played merry hell with them and told them that they had to go and get it done. The consultant in the hospital said the same thing, that a lot of women just don’t go, but it’s so important.”

She added: “Please ladies, just go for your screening.”

Women over the age of 50 – who are at an increased risk of breast cancer – are offered mammograms every five years.

Kate, who owns The Arches Cafe, in Park Road, Hartlepool, got a letter from North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust inviting her for the routine check.

A week later she received correspondence to go back for further tests and a “pain free” biopsy, with samples of the lump being extracted on February 2.

On Tuesday, February 10, doctors gave Kate the gut-wrenching news that the lump was cancerous, and the next day she had a lumpectomy at the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.

Kate was put to sleep for the surgery which saw doctors remove the lump, some surrounding tissue, and two of her lymph nodes at 5pm that day. She was at home by 9pm.

Surgery results on February 25 ruled that Kate was cancer free, much to hers and her family’s delight.

As a precautionary measure, Kate has to have 15 sessions of radiotherapy on her breast which begin in April.

Kate added: “I don’t really want to be in the headlines, but I feel so passionately about it. Even if this saves one woman’s life I would be so pleased. It could have been such a different story for me.”

The trust’s Breast Unit manager, Joyce Iredale, said: “It is very important women come for their screening appointment and we want to encourage more women to attend.

“We can reassure you that our caring staff will put you at ease during your appointment.

“It is a way of potentially detecting breast cancer at a very early stage.

“Screening mammograms can help us to see changes in the breast which are too small to be felt by you or your GP.

“We run screening appointments locally at both the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the University Hospital of North Tees.

“We have invested in the latest digital mammography screening technology and we are one of the largest screening services in the UK to be using the state of the art digital equipment, which means that the mammograms can be checked for image quality and our doctors and specialist radiographers can look at the images on a computer screen.”