Philomena on diagnosis

Philomena stands in her kitchen while talking.  She is wearing a white top and a cross necklace.

Having lost her mother to breast cancer, Philomena always took care to go for regular mammograms – but her own diagnosis still came as a complete shock.

'I went faithfully every three years for a mammogram.'

I went faithfully every three years for a mammogram, because my mum died of breast cancer at 56, and had been diagnosed at about 48. It was October 2011 and this letter was laying on the table saying we’re calling all ladies between 60 and 70 for a mammogram. So I phoned and said, 'Yes, I’ll come'.

It was a very cold, wet day. I missed the bus so I had to walk into town – I don’t drive unfortunately. I was standing in the lashing rain thinking if the bus for home comes, I’m going home, and if the bus for the hospital comes, I’m going to go and have my mammogram. I just thank God every day that I made the right decision.

When I got recalled, I went out to the hospital and the doctor explained that something had shown up, and it could just be a little cyst or something more. The consultant said that if I’d left it until my routine mammogram, I could’ve been looking at a much more serious case.

'It was just such a shock because I felt so fit and healthy.'

At first there was confusion, there was panic – how am I going to tell the family? I was in disbelief. How do you cope with news like that? And I was there all on my own.

The hospital has a quiet room so I went in there and just sort of calmed myself down a bit. I just thought, 'well, you’re at a crossroads in your life now and hopefully this will just be a cyst but if it’s not, there’s something you’re going to have to face here'. My Catholic faith’s very strong so I just thought I’ll accept whatever it is and cope with it.

All of a sudden, I find myself back with the doctor and she’s saying, 'Mrs Gallagher, you do have breast cancer'. And all these medical words were just being thrown at me and they're handing me leaflets. And really in my brain, I’m just sitting there cursing. Because I’d finally lost three-and-a-half stone, I had my job, life was wonderful – and I’m just thinking, why me?

At the time, I think my brain just went, 'I just want to live'. I couldn’t care less whether I have breasts or not. I have my children, my beautiful grandchildren. I just want to live. It was just such a shock, because I felt so well and so fit and healthy.