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‘I lost a breast but gained my life after getting screened’: Cancer mum’s brave blog inspiring others

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Tracy on surgery day

Tracy on surgery day

Tracy still smiling a few days before surgery

Tracy still smiling a few days before surgery

Morning after surgery

Morning after surgery

Tracy McCausland the day after her diagnosis

Tracy McCausland the day after her diagnosis

Tracy a few days after her operation

Tracy a few days after her operation

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Tracy on surgery day

A Co Antrim woman is saving lives through a brave online blog about her breast cancer journey.

Dozens of women have booked a mammogram after reading Lisburn mum-of-two Tracy McCausland’s tale of how the test saved her life.

Tracy (49) lost her left breast last month after a cancerous growth was picked up by the Action Cancer screening service in Belfast.

Further investigation discovered additional lumps, including two fast-growing tumours.

Despite the horror of undergoing a mastectomy, Tracy was so grateful to discover the cancer on time that she took to Facebook to urge other women to be proactive about their breast health.

The result has been overwhelming, with many booking tests and some women now awaiting follow-up appointments after lumps were detected.

A relieved Tracy, who is mum to Callum (19) and Sam (15), has just been told she is cancer free after an emotional three-month journey.

She said: “At the beginning I decided to start a Facebook blog about my experience because many of my friends were oblivious to the fact that we have this amazing service by Action Cancer for women between the ages of 40 and 49.

“I really wanted to simply draw attention to this and posted the links to the online booking portal to encourage friends to book in.

“As my story continued, I think the blogs were my way of offloading what was happening so that I could almost look at it from the outside in, separating myself a little from the fear and emotion.

“I then became a little bit obsessed with getting people to book in for screening, either through Action Cancer or the NHS service — it kind of became a bit of a score card as I started to keep track of how many people I had got to book in.

“As time went on, I was finding that more and more people were contacting me to say that my story had encouraged them to book their mammogram. Some were friends, their friends and a few were strangers who had got to hear about my experience.

“Having now come out the other side of this experience, I have emerged passionate about spreading the word on the importance of early detection.

“I want people to read about what happened to me, and see my face and think ‘that could be me/my sister/girlfriend/wife/daughter/mum’… and book in for a mammogram.”

Tracy first became aware of the screening service for the under-50s a few years ago when she raised funds for Action Cancer. Due to turn 50 this month, when she would qualify for screening on the NHS, Tracy decided not to wait and booked with Action Cancer on January 17.

A week later, she received a letter advising her that the findings had met the threshold for referral.

She says: “The letter and accompanying information was reassuring and I didn’t panic as I felt sure that at this stage it was just precautionary. As I was fortunate enough to have a private healthcare policy, I decided to book a consultation at the Ulster Clinic the following week.”

While she was there, Tracy had three needle biopsies and was shocked to receive a call just a few days later informing her that one of the biopsies had given cause for concern.

Further tests revealed more areas of concern, including an unusual growth in an area which could never have been picked up with self-examination. Just six weeks after her initial Action Cancer mammogram, it was confirmed on March 3 that Tracy had cancer.

She recalled: “Even though I had thought about it and tried to mentally prepare myself, there is nothing that you can really do to prepare for hearing the words ‘you have cancer’.

“The consultant and nurse were amazing and explained that I had a small cancerous tumour, but reassured me that it would most likely just require surgery to remove the tumour and an area of surrounding healthy tissue, followed by a short course of radiotherapy.”

However, another precautionary MRI scan proved even more concerning. It revealed another tumour as well as several other areas believed to be either cancerous or pre-cancerous.

Tracy decided, with the support of her consultant, to have a full mastectomy.

It was at this stage, despite the dire news, that Tracy’s positivity kicked in and her blogs reflect a brave woman who was grateful that her cancer had been caught on time.

She explained: “The decision to proceed with the mastectomy was actually an easy one to make.

“Knowing that there were at least two cancerous tumours in the breast, my overriding desire was to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

“My priority was to give myself the best chance of recovery and survival — and removing all of the breast tissue was really the only way to do that.

“I have two boys, one of whom has a severe learning disability, and my core driver was that I needed to be around for as long as possible for the two of them.

“Losing a breast honestly didn’t bother me when weighing it up against saving my life.”

The surgery went well and while in recovery Tracy was updating her many followers on Facebook. It was only when she returned home two days later that the emotional toll of what she had come through truly hit her.

She admitted: “Emotionally, the first days post-surgery were an absolute rollercoaster. I had been going around for the preceding weeks constantly telling everyone, ‘I’m ok, I’m ok’.

“I really wasn’t, though, and the magnitude of what I had been going through kind of hit me all at once.

“I had to allow myself to really face into the fear and emotion and let it consume me for a little while.

“Seeing the physical manifestation of the mastectomy when I looked in the mirror was also really hard.

“I thought that I had prepared myself for it, but it still hit me the first few times I looked at it.”

In fact, her anxiety became so bad that the night before getting her results she had to call an ambulance after taking a severe panic attack.

She said: “In my head, in order to prepare for the worst-case scenario, I had propelled myself mentally into thinking that the cancer had spread.

“I honestly at one point had myself dead and buried. The fear and stress of what I had been going through literally exploded.”

Fortunately, the news was good. The surgery had been a success and the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes. Now thankful to be cancer free, she is also grateful that her story has helped many women.

She added: “I am the cautionary tale. My story shows the importance of screening and early detection.

“I am so lucky that I went for that mammogram at Action Cancer — if I hadn’t then I wouldn’t have known about the cancer until much further down the line when I could have been looking at a very different outcome.

“I have lost a breast, yes, but I have been given my life back.

“I am so grateful to Action Cancer for the amazing service they provide. They saved my life.”

Action Cancer is the only charity in the UK and Ireland to offer breast screening to women aged 40-49 and 70-plus. For more information go to actioncancer.org or telephone 02890803344.


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