A trip to the ‘Big Bus’ saved my life

Gail Deery, who attended the Action Cancer Big Bus.
Gail Deery, who attended the Action Cancer Big Bus.

In September 2006 Gloria Hunniford, whose daughter Caron Keating died from breast cancer, helped local charity Action Cancer launch a world class screening and health promotion mobile for Northern Ireland – the Big Bus.

Retail group SuperValu and its stores across Northern Ireland, including those in Co Tyrone, raised £600,000 to help make the mobile unit a reality. 30,000 people have now used the innovative services onboard the 14 metre long Big Bus, including digital breast screening for women aged 40-49 and over 70, health checks for men and women, including BMI and cholesterol tests and information on support services such as counselling.

One woman who has used the Big Bus service and knows about its life-saving impact is Gail Deery (43), who lives in the village of Killen outside Castlederg, with her two children Paige (17) and Kyle (14). This is her story in her own words.

“I decided with my sister to go along to the Action Cancer Big Bus for breast screening in June 2010. We made the decision to go as there was a history of cancer in our family, with aunts and uncles affected by the disease.

“The results from my mammogram suggested that I should have further investigations carried out. This left me feeling quite nervous and anxious.

“A breast care consultant organised for me to have a scan. The scan showed something like a black dot in my breast. The consultant was 99% sure it was nothing to worry about, although for peace of mind she said she would make arrangements for me to have a needle test. This test revealed that I would have to have an operation to have a malignant lump removed. I left the hospital totally devastated at the news. When I told my family they were shocked and distraught.

“I had my operation on 26th July 2010. The consultant confirmed that they had removed a malignant lump 12mm in length and also some lymph glands for further tests. The tests showed that the cancer hadn’t progressed to my lymph glands and the consultant was happy that I would make a full recovery with treatment. The treatment consisted of six sessions of chemotherapy in the Sperrin Unit, Altnagelvin Hospital followed by five weeks of radiotherapy.

“After my first chemotherapy treatment I felt extremely sick and very tired. I started to lose my hair on week three. I was so relieved when I had my final treatment of chemotherapy after nearly 4 ½ months.

“About three weeks later I started radiotherapy in Belfast which meant a 180 mile round trip from my home five days a week for five weeks. I found that extremely tiring.

“Throughout my journey the support I received from my partner, family and friends was incredible. I can’t thank them enough.”

Every year on average 3,200 women receive a mammogram onboard the Big Bus, detecting approximately 20 breast cancers which may otherwise have gone unnoticed. Early detection continues to be the best way to fight cancer, making the Big Bus one of the most important services Action Cancer provides to local women. 17,000 women have used the breast screening service on the Big Bus.

Gail Deery added; “If the Action Cancer Big Bus had not visited my area my breast cancer wouldn’t have been detected in its early stages. I will be forever indebted to Action Cancer and to those that arranged for the bus to come to my local town.

“I would encourage all women aged 40 – 49 and over 70 to contact Action Cancer and arrange a breast screening either at Action Cancer House or on the Big Bus. My story taught me that it’s much better to be proactive about your health and I would urge all women to be the same.”

Gail now fundraises to bring the Big Bus back to her local community.

The Big Bus targets areas where cancer risk is greatest and where uptake of screening services is low.

The unit, which is the first of its kind in Europe, will be located at the Shantallow SuperValu store, Northside Village Centre on June 12.

Anyone interested in making an appointment for the Big Bus should telephone Action Cancer in advance on 028 9080 3344. Appointments will be available from 10.00am to 3.00pm. Bookings are taken on a first come first served basis as there are a limited number of appointments for all services.