‘Mammogram saved my life’
What started out as a routine mammogram check-up for Eugenia Falzon ended up in a whirlwind of hospital appointments and surgery to remove a cancerous lump in her breast.
“I didn’t even feel the lump but it was spotted by the mammogram. The doctors told me if it had been big enough for me to feel it, it might have been too late,” Ms Falzon, 59, told The Sunday Times.
Ms Falzon, a cancer survivor, is one of the 42 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer after taking part in the government’s screening programme targeting the high-risk category of women aged between 50 and 59.
“When I received the invite for the mammogram, I said to myself that there was nothing to lose if I went,” she said.
Sitting side by side, Ms Falzon and her husband John, from St Paul’s Bay, explained how their lives changed overnight.
At the beginning of summer Ms Falzon kept her appointment at the government’s newly opened breast screening clinic at Lascaris Wharf, Valletta.
“They told me they would call me with the results after three weeks. But after one week they called me in for further testing because they saw something suspicious,” she said.
The news shocked her and her husband. “It was not good news and you get scared and worried – just the word ‘cancer’ scares you,” Mr Falzon said.
The couple, who have two grown children, went to the clinic to meet the consultants and discuss treatment.
“They explained everything to us, sometimes even twice or three times because it wasn’t sinking in,” Ms Falzon said.
She had a biopsy in August and the results revealed there was cancerous tissue in both breasts. An operation was immediately scheduled at Mater Dei Hospital to have it removed.
“The doctors removed an orange-sized lump of cancerous and surrounding breast tissue,” Mr Falzon said.
Ms Falzon was then prescribed three weeks of radiotherapy, which she completed last week – the day before her interview.
“The radiotherapy exhausted me the last few days – my body felt sore and achy all over,” a tired-looking Ms Falzon said.
But she expressed nothing but gratitude for the medical staff and her loved ones.
The doctors were very positive after the operation and on Tuesday Ms Falzon has her final appointment to see if she will be given the all-clear.
The clinic has been offering its services for one year – it was officially inaugurated on October 19, 2009 but actually started the screening process two weeks earlier.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, during which extra emphasis is given worldwide to the importance of self-examination, prevention and screening of breasts.
Around 30,000 women aged between 50 and 60 will be called for screening over a period of three years. The system uses a national database and sends a request, depending on date of birth, to women to attend the centre.
So far, around 60 per cent of women who were called kept their appointment but the government is hopeful it would reach its set target of 75 per cent.
Ms Falzon encouraged women not to be afraid of going for a mammogram. “It’s true – it hurts. But it hurts only for a few seconds and it can save your life. It’s worth it,” she said.
She was also lucky enough to have the full support and love of her family and friends. Her husband took time off from work to be with her everywhere – at the clinic, the hospital and for the radiotherapy sessions at Boffa Hospital.
“Men should be there for their wives – they should encourage them to go and have their breasts checked and to have the mammogram,” he said.
Mr Falzon has nothing but words of high praise and intense gratitude. “Women who don’t go for a check-up are stupid. I cannot thank the person who came up with this idea (the clinic) enough.”