‘Born warrior’ saved by routine breast cancer screening

21st Sep 2022

A breast cancer survivor has urged women not to miss scheduled appointments after a routine mammogram saved her life.

Carol O’Neill, aged 78, had an operation to remove her breast and underwent gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy after being diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.

Remarkably she had none of the six symptoms before her screening appointment and the diagnosis at City Hospital, Birmingham, came as a complete shock to her.

She explained: “I used to check myself regularly and never found anything. When I received a letter to book a mammogram appointment, I still went ahead with it because I knew how important it was.”

A biopsy later went on to reveal the life-changing news.

Carol, a carer for 37 years and more recently for her husband, Ronald, added: “When I was told, I didn’t cry, but my husband did. I then had to break the news to my four children, which was very emotional. I encouraged them, explaining ‘I’m going to be okay, I will do this and get well, for as long as it takes.’

“I believed I had two ways of looking at it – I could either feel sorry for myself or be brave and get on with it. I’m a born warrior so I just wanted to survive and get better,” she continued.

Her courage was not the only motivation that helped her get through. Luckily, she was surrounded by a supportive circle of people to help her persevere during one of her life’s biggest challenges. 

Carol, from Aston, Birmingham, added: “The staff at City Hospital’s breast unit were wonderful – everyone they care for is well looked after. We each had our own little support group, I got to know nurses by name and talked to other patients in the same situation.

“It sounds silly, but I enjoyed going there as the staff were truly outstanding. My doctor was also my rock, calling regularly to ask how I was doing. On top of this – of course, my husband and kids were wonderful.

“I would love to give something back by sharing my story to encourage as many women as possible to attend their mammograms and continue to check themselves for symptoms.

“I wouldn’t be here today without the service and the team will always be in my heart for saving my life. Five years on, I’m all clear and happy. I want to urge everyone to please go to your mammograms; I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t.” she said.

Claire Murphy, Health Promotions Specialist at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust which runs City Hospital, said: “It’s really important that people go to their appointment, as Carol’s journey shows us.

“Women registered with a GP will be invited for NHS breast screening every three years between the ages of 50 and 71. Women aged over 71 can also attend breast screenings every three years, but they must self-refer by calling the screening office to book an appointment.

“Breast screenings are usually done by female mammographers who are trained to help you feel more comfortable and provide support with any questions or concerns you may have.

“As well as attending regular breast screening, it is important to be breast aware and report any changes to your GP.”

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