Lanarkshire cancer survivor urges over-50 women to get free mammogram

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 21:08 GMT on Friday, 14th September 2012.


A LANARKSHIRE cancer survivor has stepped forward to tell her story in a bid to encourage women over 50 to take up the offer of a free mammogram, which she says saved her life, as the national Detect Cancer Campaign focuses on breast cancer.

Elaine Dillon, from Coatbridge, discovered she had breast cancer after attending a routine mammogram.

Breast cancer affects one in 10 Scottish women at some time in their lives. If cancer is found at an early stage, treatment has the best chance of being successful. To detect early changes in breast tissue, breast screening is offered to women aged between 50 and 70 every three years.

This was Elaine’s second brush with cancer after having a mastectomy at the age of 38 after precancerous cells were found in one of her breasts.

Speaking of her diagnosis, Elaine said: “When you find out you have cancer, you feel like the bottom has fallen out of your life. At that point I didn’t know the cancer type. I thought that since it was a tiny growth that it would be fine.

“When I went back for my biopsy results I discovered that it was a grade three cancer which is of rapid growth and that I would need chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I went out to the car and I was hysterical. All I could think is ‘I’m losing my hair’, ‘I’m going to be ill’ and ‘how am I going to keep my job’. But I had decided that this wasn’t going to beat me.”

The head teacher at Wester Overton Primary School in Strathaven decided to tackle her cancer in a positive way and decided that it was not going to rule her life.

Elaine said “I have hundreds of parents, children and staff who see me every day. I wanted to show them all that this can be a positive experience. There are so many families going through this, that I wanted people to look at me and see that I was handling it well. I had to be in control of my future in a positive way.”

After having chemotherapy and radiotherapy at Monklands Hospital, Elaine is full of praise for the breast care nurses, whom Elaine describes as “treasures”.

Elaine tried to take control of every aspect of her cancer: “I had long hair at the time. I went to my hairdresser and told her what was going to happen. She cut my hair really short and made it a lot lighter in colour. It was to avoid the immediate shock of finding handfuls of hair on my pillow. I knew that I was going to lose my hair, but I controlled how it was going to happen. As I went through the chemotherapy, I started to notice my hair coming out, so I just shaved it all off to get control. I didn’t want to wake up with the shock of finding my hair on my pillow. This wasn’t going to get me down.

“I got through the whole thing still being a head teacher. It was good to come here to take my mind off things. I wasn’t sitting at home thinking things over. I was at work keeping busy. I worked right through all my chemotherapy. I even came in after surgery when I still had my stitches in. I didn’t want to go home and close the door and get a negative attitude which would bring me down.

“I would recommend that everyone takes up the offer of a mammogram. My cancer was so small that it would have been impossible to be felt by hand. Look at me now – I have been well looked after and I feel fantastic.”

To find out more about the breast screening programme, visit: