Sacha Mountfort, a nurse of over twenty years, thanks proactive annual mammograms for picking up her breast cancer early.
The 48 year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of this year, after undergoing routine mammograms since her early forties.
While women in New Zealand only qualify for the free national breast screening programme between the ages of 45 and 69, and over 40 in Australia, Sacha says one of the best things her GP encouraged her to do was undergo private mammograms every year.
“Even though I have no family history, I’m not predisposed and I’m relatively healthy, she got me to get private mammograms every year, until I got on to the breast screening programme,” she says.Mountfort - Clinical Services Improvement Advisor for Bupa Villages and Aged Care New Zealand
“This was only because my GP has seen so many anomalies, and being a nurse myself, I have seen all the statistics and know anything under the sun can happen – so I just didn’t want to be one of them.”
Being proactive paid off for Sacha, after a small lump was found during her mammogram in January.
“On the 1st of February I got the diagnosis that I had breast cancer. It was very surreal,” she says.
“I went and sat in the car, and I remember I was about to do the big cry, woe is me, but I thought ‘no, I am going to be proactive and make stuff happen for me’.”
Make stuff happen is exactly what Sacha did. She immediately asked for recommendations for the best breast cancer surgeon and phoned him up directly. Through “proactive persuasion” she managed to get an appointment within days and had surgery within two weeks. Having Southern Cross health insurance played a large part in this occurring and Sacha is incredibly grateful. At times over the years she has often wondered if it was worth the costs, but at that time it allowed a shortened timeframe. Sacha is painfully aware that this is not the experience of most wāhine and acknowledges this.
“I took control and basically just did my homework. That was part of keeping myself distracted and feeling in control – because it’s an uncontrollable situation and it can be incredibly overwhelming,” she says.
Sacha is very thankful for the connections, relationships and understanding she experienced through her healthcare journey.
“I am really lucky. We caught it so early, it was small, it got completely removed and wasn’t invasive. Just by being so proactive in that space, made a huge difference.”
Since her diagnosis, Sacha has been advocating for her friends and whānau to get regular checks.
“I have a daughter, female friends, sisters, aunties – all of these wonderful wāhine (women) in my life that I need to role model for,” she says.
“You are never too young to get a mammogram or ask for a referral for one. And if you aren’t happy with the answers or feel you are being fobbed off, get a second opinion or change GPs. Don’t put it off.
“Also, for men with special women in their lives, have that conversation and don’t be whakamā (embarrassed) about it.”
Sacha has been “pretty much given a clean bill of health”, and while she feels anxious about her next annual mammogram, is remaining positive and focused on furthering her health and wellbeing journey.
“You don’t need to have a crisis or a life altering diagnosis to think more about your health and wellbeing, but it has taught me not to put things off.
“Even though I was told it was just a real bad case of bad luck, I took that with a grain of salt and explored my health further,” she says.
“I’ve looked at my diet and nutrition, and I love activity and exercise anyway, so I’m keeping that up. But also, work life balance is really important – I have reduced my working hours to include a mental wellbeing day, where I do the things that fill my cup.”
“There is a 5 year journey ahead of me where in 2028, I plan to get the all clear and well and truly kicked it to the curb."
Sacha hopes her story can inspire others to get their mammograms and other health checks.
“Even if it’s just one person that gets it picked up early and has a successful outcome, it is worth sharing my story.”