A North Belfast woman who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer after two years in remission has called on the Health Service to provide regular body scans for patients in recovery from the disease.Glengormley mother of four Catherine Carmichael was recently told the breast cancer she beat two years ago has returned and spread to her organs and that the disease will claim her life.
Since recovering from breast cancer in 2009 the 48-year old had been returning to the City Hospital every six months for a mammogram and an appointment with an oncology doctor. It was during her last appointment that she told the doctor she had been feeling unwell and was sent for a chest scan and later a CT scan which showed the spread of the disease. Catherine, who is originally from the Antrim Road, said she believes if she had been given a CT scan every six months, as she had been with a mammogram, her cancer might have been detected sooner and treatment could have been successful.
“Three years ago I felt a lump and was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer,” she said.
“I had chemotherapy, radiation and given tamoxifen to take (a drug used to treat breast cancer), After I beat it I was going back for a breast scan very six months and to see a doctor. At my latest appointment I said that I hadn’t been feeling well for the last few weeks and the doctor sent me for a chest scan.
“I then got a call asking me to go for an urgent CT scan. I met with the doctor, she told me it had spread and there was nothing they could do.”
Despite her own devastating news the grandmother of four young children, the youngest just eight weeks old, said she wants to call on the Health Service to provide full body scans for patients recovering from cancer in order to detect a return of the disease sooner.
“I think that when someone has quite advanced cancer and then beats it, doctors should be keeping a really close eye on them and getting them scanned,” she said.
“If I had had a CT scan earlier I might not have been given this news. I’d only really had my symptoms a few weeks, but obviously it had been spreading for a good while.
“If the Health Service was doing this to everyone it would save lives. Maybe this might make them do it for other people.
“I want this to be a warning to other patients to ask for a scan, demand one. I know that I feel, and I’m sure other people do too, that they don’t want to be too demanding or be too much trouble, but this is your health you are talking about, just ask for it.”
The courageous woman said she wants her own story to act as a warning to other people in the same situation.
“I accept it and I’m not afraid, I am worried for my children, my youngest wee girl is only 18 and still lives with me, I worry about her and I worry about them all and my grandchildren.
“I really just want to warn other people. There might be another woman sitting at home who would maybe not want to ask (for a scan) but after reading this might just do it and save her life.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said hospitals follow guidelines on follow up cancer care.
"Follow up for any cancer is based on the available evidence about what is likely to detect recurrences as soon as possible, balanced against the risks and costs of the follow up, for example the exposure to radiation which can increase the risk of cancers,” she said.
"Repeated regular CT scans are not currently recommended as follow up for breast cancer patients.
"One of the problems is that a recurrence can develop between any follow up assessments. We would encourage patients who develop symptoms to see their GP rather than wait for a planned review appointment."