In Praise of Older Women—those who remember to have regular mammograms

I tend to hang on to friendships with older women who have been positively influential in my life. I learn a lot from them, and appreciate their friendship in a different way than I do with peers of my own age. My older mates have been there to advise me, guide me and to teach me things that they know from experience.

One such friend is a lady called Sue Donovan.

Sue was my boss about 20 years ago. She was a formidable publisher who both equally terrified me at times, but inspired me mainly. She did not suffer fools, it could be said. She also offered every employee a glass of champagne at 5pm every day, as a thank you.

Anyway, luckily we are still in each others lives, and she has a very important message that she wants to share with you. Please make her feel welcome.

When I read last week that it was the tenth anniversary of Mrs Woog’s blog, I could hardly believe that she had been writing her funny, often hilarious blog for such a long time. Five years, yes, but ten, surely not.

Well, late last week, I had second experience of time passing in a flash and it wasn’t a good one.

Let me explain.

Last weekend, I was supposed to be on a flight to Lisbon. A few weeks earlier, being a conscientious sort of old girl, I had been crossing off my ‘things to do before I go away for a couple of months’ list and thought I had better book in for a mammogram. My surgeon was away, but his excellent secretary fitted me in as soon as he returned, which was just three days before my departure date.

As I stripped off, the radiologist asked me how long it had been since my last mammogram. Oh ‘A couple of years, perhaps three’, was my confident reply. Not so—it turned out to be six years since the previous one.

‘Not to worry’, I thought, ‘I check myself regularly, there’s no family history, there’s no sign of a lump, and anyway, I’m over 70, and past the danger period for breast cancer. I’ll be home in an hour, ready for my appointment at the hairdresser.

After checking the films of the mammogram and an ultrasound, my doctor, who knew that I was off overseas, told me that he didn’t think I would be going anywhere for a while, and that I should contact my travel agent, and be back for a biopsy later in the day. He surprised me by saying that breast cancer is very common amongst older women—although it tends to grow slowly. Bad news, good news. Carol, the lovely secretary told me that because I was slim and fit I would make a quick recovery from the surgery. I don’t feel very slim, but then I realised for ‘slim’, read ‘flat chested’.

By this stage it was Thursday afternoon, with the radiologist obligingly making sure that the biopsy results would be available by late the next day. It was bad news, good news again. Good news in that there was time to cancel our bookings before the travel agent closed for the weekend.

By the following Tuesday, I was admitted to hospital, all wired up ready for surgery the next morning. After a partial mastectomy and a couple of nights in hospital, I was home, again waiting anxiously for the pathology results. Fortunately, the cancer has not spread, so we’ll be able to resume our trip, just a couple of weeks late. On my return, I’ll be having several weeks of radiotherapy —a bit of an inconvenience, that’s all.

Although this experience hasn’t been a lot of fun, I have kept reminding myself of several close friends who are bearing up bravely and cheerfully with much worse cancer scenarios.

I must give a great shout out to the fantastic breast care nurses employed by hospitals, who provide heaps of invaluable information and support. As soon as I was admitted they gave me a very clear information sheets, a dvd, plus their contact details should I have any concerns. The breast care nurse also fitted me for a free post- operative bra. Good on you, Berlei.

Hearing of my news, most friends my age have rushed to book themselves in for a mammogram this coming week, including several GPs, nurses and radiologists who turn out to be have been as slack as I have been. (I also know of several women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer well into their eighties, when the danger of surgery is so much greater. )

So please, young Mrs Woog fans, share my story with the older women that you care about. They need to know that breast cancer is quite common in those over seventy. And nag them to make sure that they are up to date with mammograms.

Know anyone that you can nag?

When is the last time you had a professional check your boobs?