A County Antrim woman has revealed how she was diagnosed with breast cancer after a chance visit to a screening programme offered at work - that she nearly didn't go for.
Joan Cowan (49), from Kells, was yesterday helping Action Cancer celebrate the first anniversary of its Big Bus service at a Stormont event. The Newtownabbey Borough Council employee said that, without the facility, which visited her workplace in March, there was every possibility she still wouldn't know about the tumour found growing in her breast.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Cowan said she had no doubt the Big Bus had saved her life.
"I had no concerns whatsoever about my breasts. There was no pain, no lump or any signs that something was wrong," she said.
"My employer was hosting a health event at work and the Big Bus was coming as part of that so I booked the mammogram.
"I wondered whether to go at all because I had no concerns. I was 48 then and I thought that it could be two, maybe three years, before I'm called for routine NHS breast screening, so I changed my mind. I was in and out in 20 minutes and thought nothing more about it."
Mrs Cowan said that, even when she was called back for further investigation, she had no concerns.
"I would have put my house on it that I didn't have cancer. It was only when I was told that there was a tumour in my left breast that reality started to sink in. It was confirmed to be cancer."
The positive human resources worker went on to have the tumour surgically removed, before undergoing chemotherapy and then radiotherapy which she finished last week.
"I dread to think of how differently things could be if I hadn't gone for the mammogram," she said.
"People have said to me 'it was meant to be, it's no accident that bus came when it did' but I don't really think like that.
"I prefer to think that's what screening is all about. That's why it's so important to go for screening. If everybody was going for screening, these things would be caught much earlier - it's as simple as that."
Mrs Cowan was one of over 4,500 people who have come on board to use the Action Cancer service since it was launched last year - with 2,870 women getting screened for breast cancer. 270 of those women have been referred for further investigation.
Action Cancer is the only charity to offer breast screening for women aged 40-49 and over 65 who fall out of the NHS screening range. Nearly 80% of women screened said they had never had a mammogram and 32% wouldn't have gone anywhere else for the service.
Ciara Boyle, Action Cancer Big Bus manager, said: "Our findings show that, had Action Cancer not brought the Big Bus to some areas, a huge number of people would never have gone themselves to access the services or receive support.
The Big Bus, the first of its kind in Europe, also offers MOT health checks and advice.
The facility can be booked by community organisations and companies. Anyone interested in the Big Bus or information on other Action Cancer services, should call 028 9080 3344 or visit www.actioncancer.org