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Wed 25 Oct 2023

Breast cancer what an education!

Blog written by Julie Grabham

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Julie Grabham, an HR consultant, shares her experience of breast cancer. She explains how her diagnosis - via routine screening - has shaped her work to increase awareness of cancer and the importance of making cancer screening everyone’s business, including employers.

You can sign Julie’s petition here.

I thought I was aware of breast cancer. I thought I knew all about breast cancer, I'm a woman of a certain age, shall we say middle of the road 50s and I have had friends who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, a lovely cousin who was diagnosed with breast cancer and they all still lead wonderful lives. I also know sadly of ladies who have lost their lives due to breast cancer. So, to me breast cancer had to be diagnosed by finding a lump or another symptom, you have a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and hopefully you live. So of course, I knew about breast cancer.

That was until I got diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022 and my education began.

In September 2022, I went for routine breast screening. No symptoms. I went there because I could. I'm self-employed, so it was easy for me to go. I was told up to 10 appointments a day can be missed cancelled or rearranged. Working in HR I knew one of these reasons could be work because currently there is no legal right for a woman to have any time off work to attend routine screenings. I actually did a social media post saying “Ladies! If your employer won't give you time off work to go for a screening let me know”. Little did I know how important those words would become.

From that routine screening I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma. I had a lump in my left breast that I could not feel even after I was shown the ultrasound when they did the biopsy. To this day that worries me that despite all the self-checks I couldn't feel the lump, which shows how vital these routine screening appointments are. I was completely shocked, and it all felt surreal, after all I don’t smoke, I don't drink alcohol and I was running every day, how could I have cancer? Well cancer doesn't discriminate.

This is where my education on breast cancer began, I now  realise there are many layers to cancer, there are various forms of treatment, and every journey is individual. For me the journey has been frustrating, I felt out of control, I have suffered anxiety and as much as all the people in the NHS are great, I am now totally aware that the system is not patient friendly.

My treatment started 100 days after diagnosis. I wish I were told how many patients are treated within the government target of 62 days. I could have decided to go private and be more in control of my cancer journey.

That didn’t happen and after an array of tests and discussions, I opted for a lumpectomy with breast reconstruction and radiotherapy as my treatment. For people who have not been through this journey it's easy to think that's it , treatment done, you're OK. However, there is not a switch that you can turn on and off with your emotions. I'm still having hormone treatment, which is playing havoc with my body, I still find the whole journey that I've been on surreal which plays havoc with my mind, but I thrive to stay positive but also know it's OK not to be OK at times.

During a run in between treatment, I had a brain wave, I could do something to help women get paid time off to attend these life screening appointments. So, I started a UK petition, but honestly it feels impossible to get the figures needed to make that change. So, alongside the petition I launched the #JGHRPledge.  MY HR clients know we can make a difference without the need for legislation, so why not do this with breast screening appointments. The pledge is simple and straight-forward, businesses join the pledge by applying for a logo for a certificate, completely free of charge. They are then committed to giving paid time off for routine breast screenings. This means they will talk about screening in the workplace; people will know what support they can receive; they are more likely to have a cancer policy, and likely to extend the support to other areas of cancer and screenings. To date over 80 businesses have joined the pledge, we know it's making a difference.  I have messages and calls quite regularly from women who have seen my story and have gone for their mammogram purely because they are now more aware.  Winning the award for Inspirational Empowerment at the Butterfly Breast Cancer Awards for the work I’m doing, was amazing

So, my story, my journey and the pledge is making a difference. It's all part of my breast cancer education.


If you or someone you love has been affected by cancer, our free Support Line is there for you. Just call 0808 808 1010