Cheryl's story: I didn’t think it would happen to me

Cheryl Flanders is an Aboriginal woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. Cheryl tells her story a decade after surviving breast cancer and encourages all women to get regular mammograms.

Page last updated: 26 August 2016

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Photo of Cheryl Flanders is an Aboriginal woman from the mid north coast in New South Wales.

Cheryl Flanders is an Aboriginal woman from the mid north coast in New South Wales. She moved to Yarrabah, aa community in Far North Queensland in 1979 and has been living there ever since.

She had been having regular breast screens every two years when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. At the time, she had no symptoms and couldn’t feel or see any lumps.

Cheryl had her screening mammogram at the BreastScreen van when it visited Yarrabah, and then was called into the Cairns BreastScreen clinic where they did an ultrasound and biopsy and confirmed it was cancer.

“Well you just don’t think it’s going to be you. I didn’t think so. My job here in the community, was working at the women’s resource centre supporting a lot of people who went through cancer. I didn’t think it would happen to me, and it did”, said Cheryl.

In 2006 Cheryl had an operation to remove the lump and then had chemotherapy and radiation treatment. She’s beencancer-free since then and is happy that she’s just past her 10 year milestone.

After her experience, she stresses the importance of getting regular mammograms to her family and friends.

“I always encourage my family to make sure they get their breasts screened, I have friends who come and sit down and visit at my place and I always talk about it. Tell them they need to get the screening”, said Cheryl.

For many women, like Cheryl, breast cancer can be detected via a mammogram even before you can feel any lumps, or experience any symptoms. Cheryl is very grateful that she had the mammogram when she did and her cancer was

detected early. It’s meant that she’s been able to spend time with friends and family.

“You have to get breast screened. It may be the only way to find out if you have cancer. Because the one that I had, they didn’t even know it was there. It got picked up with the mammogram and thank God it was very early stages”.

Cheryl understands that not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are comfortable with the idea of getting a mammogram. But it’s really important that all women aged 50 - 74 years of age book their appointment when they receive the invitation in the mail, because age is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer.

“I know shame has a lot to do with it. But don’t be shame. Your life is more important. Early detection is best”.

Cheryl explains that it’s a safe and private environment and it only takes a few minutes.

“Don’t be afraid because they’re there to help you. And you couldn’t get anyone more caring than someone who istaking a mammogram of you. It causes discomfort. But I mean a few minutes of discomfort and you’re still sitting there ten years later, I wouldn’t worry about that too much.”

“Go get your mammograms done, saved me, and I’m so grateful”.

For woman aged 50 – 74, call 13 20 15 and make an appointment at the nearest BreastScreen Australia clinic, or visit one of the mobile clinics when it comes to your community.