Henriette knew the exact spot of the lump in her breast, but when she went to her doctor to inspect it, she could not bring herself to show him where it was. He could not find it either.
She sought a second opinion from another general practitioner, and again she did not point out the exact location of the small, painful-to-touch, concealed lump – tucked away on the outer edge of her left breast.
“That’s how scared I was. I wanted someone to find it. But I didn’t want to be the one to tell them. I was scared of the word ‘cancer’. To me it meant the end of my life,” the 75-year-old says.
Henriette, who preferred to remain anonymous, has three daughters and a son and is a grandmother of four. One of her daughters and a 14-year-old granddaughter surprise her by turning up for the interview to support her as she relives a difficult time for the family.
According to research, fear is holding back many Maltese women from getting breast screening, raising the chances of late cancer diagnosis and non-effective treatment.
Women are avoiding screening because of “fear of mastectomy, fear of death, fear of pain, fear of an altered body image and fear of not being with the family,” cancer researcher Danika Marmarà found.
I wanted someone to find it. But I didn’t want to be the one to tell them
Henriette was one of them. She only overcame her fear because her daughters, who were aware of the lump, pushed her to take action.
After a lot of discussions, she set an appointment.
“I went for the ultrasound insisting I didn’t want a mammogram. But, once there, the nurse told me the doctor would not do an ultrasound without a mammogram… So, I thought: OK. Please God help me, I’m going in,” she recalls.
The mammogram did not reveal anything in particular, but an ultrasound revealed the lump Henriette had felt for months.
“I felt relieved. Deep down I always knew. I was just looking for that person who would find it and tell me,” she says, her eyes welling up.
That lump turned out to be a stage one tumour. Last February, she underwent the operation to remove the lump, followed by 15 sessions of radiotherapy.
“After all was said and done, I realised there’s nothing to fear. I encourage everyone to do the mammogram. Go and test yourself; there’s a lot of support.
“Something like this changes the way you look at life. I was one of the lucky ones. I could do something about it even though I’ll be considered cancer-free after five years. I’ll be 80 by then – if I’ll still be around.”
Her teen granddaughter nods. “Yes, she’ll make it to 120 years”. Henriette wipes her eyes: “We had a little cry together this morning,” she says, reaching out for a tissue.