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Plymouth in UNISON Member Lorraine tells her story

On the 17th October 2019 I discovered that I had breast cancer.

I’ve always been pretty complacent about my health. I’ve been extremely fortunate in that I’ve never broken a bone, had a serious illnesses or been hospitalised for anything apart from child-birth.

I went to my routine mammogram at the end of September, left the Guildhall and didn’t give it a second thought until the letter arrived a few days later telling me that I’d been recalled.  The following few months were a rollercoaster of scans, appointments, surgery and currently chemotherapy. I still have a long way to go before my treatment is complete but I am positive as I see myself as having being very fortunate. My tumour has been removed and I managed to escape a mastectomy as it was caught in time. And that was my lucky card: It was caught in time!

I was shocked to learn that many women don’t attend their routine screenings. Some because they find the idea embarrassing, others because they check themselves and can’t feel anything so think they are ‘clear’ but others because they don’t want to take the time off work because they think they’ll lose pay.

I didn’t feel my lump – my oncology nurse told me that 50% of women don’t. If I’d ignored that letter thinking I was ‘okay’ my prognosis would have been very different as my particular cancer was the aggressive variety. I have been told by many women that they often don’t take up these appointments. We live busy lives – why go to a screening when you can’t feel a lump, particularly if you are conscious of missing work or losing pay? Recent statistics show the number of women attending their appointments has declined across England over the last decade.

NHS figures state that over the past three years, almost a quarter of eligible women in Cornwall alone have not attended their mammograms – this means 20,878 women are not up to date with their checks. How many of those women are happily going about their day-to-day business unaware of might be happening in their bodies? Possibly quite a few, given that breast cancer affects one in eight women.

I discussed my situation with my Unison rep and was delighted to learn that Plymouth City Council workers, along with all NJC Green Book employees (the national terms and conditions of Local Government and Schools staff) are able to attend routine screenings in work time without losing pay. I didn’t know this – I work part-time and my appointments always helpfully fell on my day off but for full-time colleagues this could make attending mammograms much easier. Again, I wonder how many council employees are aware of this?

As I type, I am half way through my treatment and can see a light at the end of the tunnel! Since I’ve been telling my story I’ve had messages from other women saying that they’ve booked their screenings or will definitely take them up when they arise. It’s a ten minute check and you can go with the blessing of your employer.  Please don’t ignore those letters!

Lorraine is right. Not all members know that they are entitled to paid time off to attend any kind of cancer screening appointment they are asked to attend. Indeed Plymouth City Council had forgotten as all other medical appointments including Cancer treatments are supposed to be taken in your own time as another member Kelly highlighted to me a little while ago. Thanks to her we were able to get onto HR and correct the error, and soon you will see this duty highlighted in the Plymouth Book (local terms) where most people look first when they have a question. Guess I’ll have to find another excuse to skip that prostate exam!