As she sat in the breast clinic at the Ulster Hospital, Pamela Brady never imagined the difficult journey that lay ahead. 

Aged only 40 and with no symptoms of breast cancer, the only reason she was there was because two close friends had recently found lumps in their breasts. 

Both were given the all-clear, but their experiences were enough to prompt Pamela to get herself checked out. 

In the summer of 2021, having never before been breast aware, it was a chance decision that saved her life and she is now determined to use her shock diagnosis to raise awareness across Northern Ireland. 

“Two of my friends went to the GP and they were both referred on for mammograms,” explains Pamela. 

“We’re best friends, there’s been a wee group of us since we were no age, so it really put it into my head that I should get myself checked out as well. 

“I was only 40 at the time so I wasn’t eligible for NHS routine screening because this kicks in at the age of 50, so I booked an appointment with Action Cancer as they do screening for women my age with no symptoms. 

“It was really easy, I just booked online and went along for my appointment at Windsor Avenue in Belfast. 

“It was all very quick and I didn’t think anymore about it.” 

However, Pamela received a letter from Action Cancer a few weeks later informing her further investigations were required. She was subsequently referred onto the breast clinic at the Ulster Hospital. 

“I still wasn’t worried,” she continues. 

“The appointment letter from the hospital said I would be there from 9am to around noon and I thought there was no way I would be there that long. 

“I almost wasn’t going to go but I work for the NHS and I didn’t want to just not turn up and waste an appointment so in the end I went along.” 

Pamela underwent a mammogram, which she describes as “uncomfortable but not painful” before she was told she would need a biopsy. 

“I was still completely oblivious,” she says. 

“At one stage one of the nurses inserted a metal clip into me to let them know where they should look the next time and that’s when it hit me – there must be something wrong but no way did I think they were going to say breast cancer. 

“I went for another mammogram and then I was called by a breast care nurse and taken into a room where there was a consultant and they told me.” 

Pamela was diagnosed with a grade three tumour and was told it was the fastest growing type of breast cancer, although the doctor was confident it had been caught early. 

“She explains: “They told me I would have to wait for the biopsy results to come back before I was get the actual plan but they said I should prepare myself for surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and probably medication as well. 

“I just sat and listened to everything they had to say and then at the end they asked if I had any questions. 

“I actually asked, ‘did you just tell me I have breast cancer?’. It’s not that I wasn’t listening, I just had to say it out loud before I could believe it. 

“I hadn’t had any symptoms, I hadn’t felt any lumps or anything. I’d only gone for a mammogram because of my friends and never thought I would actually have cancer.” 

The first thing Pamela did as she left the hospital was ring her best friend to tell her the news. 

Pamela continues: “She’d been texting me throughout the appointment, it was her 40th birthday that day and she asked me how I’d got on. 

“When I told her she burst into tears but I didn’t cry, I never cried, I knew the plan and I just thought I had to get my head down and get through it.” 

Within a matter of weeks, Pamela returned to hospital for a lumpectomy, and she subsequently went through a gruelling course of six cycles of chemotherapy, followed by radiotherapy. 

“The surgery was okay, it was a day case procedure and it was a bit sore afterwards,” continues Pamela. 

“The chemo wasn’t nice, I ended up in hospital with an infection for five nights. 

“The first time I had it, I got home and about an hour and a half later I felt like I had been reversed over by a plane. 

“I felt really sick for the first week, things would improve the following week and by the third week I was able to get out of the house and go for a short walk with my dad and the dogs. 

“The chemo is trying to kill everything so I couldn’t eat, I was taking anti-sickness tablets but I still felt awful. 

“People were texting me but at times I switched my phone off because I couldn’t even cope with looking at the messages let alone respond to them. 

“I was devastated about the hair loss because I had recently dyed it the perfect shade of purple for my best friend’s wedding in early September.  

“I decided that I wanted to be the one in control so shaved my head before my hair completely fell out. 

“Luckily the radiotherapy was tiring but much easier than the chemo.” 

Pamela, who is now cancer free, has since started a five-year course of tamoxifen, a hormone therapy drug to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring, but which can result menopausal symptoms. 

“I’m getting night sweats and hot flushes but I’m very much of the mindset that it’s happening and I just have to deal with it,” she says. 

“I just don’t see the point in letting myself get upset, sitting crying for hours and then afterwards, I’m still in the same situation. 

“I’m not back to where I was before my diagnosis but I’m getting there and I’ve even started hiking again. 

“I know how lucky I’ve been – the position of my tumour meant I couldn’t feel it even if I had been checking my breasts. 

“One of the nurses during my treatment said to me that if I hadn’t gone for that scan I probably wouldn’t have been alive for my 50th birthday to be called for a mammogram. 

“That’s why now, when anyone I know turns 40, I tell them ‘happy birthday, now book your mammogram’. 

“The staff at Action Cancer were so welcoming and I know things would have been very, very different if I hadn’t gone for that appointment.” 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer type among females in Northern Ireland, accounting for 30% of all cancer diagnoses among women.  

The latest statistics state that 1,468 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and  307 die from the disease every year.    

Women between the ages of 50 and 71 who are registered with a GP are invited for NHS breast screening every three years. 

This is a programme aimed at picking up cancer at an earlier and treatable stage. 

Action Cancer is the only charity in the UK and Ireland which offers breast screening to women aged 40 to 49 and those over 70.