A WOMAN from the North East today told how a random offer to take part in a cancer screening programme could have saved her life.
Flanked by the three grandchildren she feared she may not see grow up, Mandy Redford, 48, says she was not due to have been offered a mammogram for another two years under the routine system, but a pilot scheme is inviting women on Wearside to be tested from the age of 47.
But when a leaflet about the scheme came through the door of her home in South Hylton, Sunderland, she took up the opportunity at Sunderland Royal Hospital – and gave herself many more years with her family.
Specialists spotted a problem and she was sent to Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where she was told she had breast cancer.
The mum-of-two is now part-way through a six-month course of chemotherapy at Spire Hospital, Washington, after having a mastectomy.
She said: “I was just absolutely devastated, I couldn’t talk.
“It took ages to sink in. It still hasn’t sunk in really. I didn’t think this would happen to me.”
The cancer was buried deep in Mandy’s breast and could have spread to the rest of her body if she had waited until she was 50 for a routine scan.
Mandy, who works as an assistant hall manager at Sunderland University, said: “You couldn’t feel the cancer as a lump but it had already travelled to one lymph node.
“I have three lovely grandchildren and it’s awful to think I may never have seen them grow up.”
Mandy said one of the hardest things was breaking the news to her family – daughter Zoe, 25, son Lee, 30 and 51-year-old husband, Billy – a project manager for a refrigeration firm.
She is also grandmother to Lyla Redford and Jamie Dott – both two – and one-year-old Heidi Dott.
She said: “The whole family was devastated. It has affected everybody, but they have been fantastic. So has work, everyone has been really supportive.”
She now wants more women to be aware of the disease, and called for the pilot scheme to be introduced across the country.
She said: “Women shouldn’t hesitate. Mine wouldn’t have been spotted for another two years and then it could have been too late.”
The Gateshead Breast Screening Programme is based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and screens women from Gateshead, Sunderland, South Tyneside, Durham and Chester-le-Street from the age of 47.
Manager Jeanette Bowes, from the programme, said: “Following the national policy decision to extend the NHS Breast Screening Programme, the Gateshead Breast Screening Programme now invites women between their 47th and 50th birthday for their first breast screening.
“This is helping us identify cancers in women, like Mandy, who do not have any symptoms.
“We believe it is important for all women to attend screening and remain breast aware by regularly checking your breasts and to come for screening every three years.”
* For free, confidential support and information on breast cancer, visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk or call the helpline on 0808 800 6000.