Human rights lawyer and wife of the former Prime Minister Cherie Blair CBE, QC is just one of many people paying tribute to the breast unit as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Around a decade after the breast service was implemented, the dedicated breast unit at the University Hospital of North Tees was officially opened on 20 December 2001 by Mrs Blair herself.
The multidisciplinary team in the unit diagnoses around 360 cancers per year – almost one a day – through their mobile asymptomatic breast screening service. The team also carried out around 180 symptomatic appointments (referred by GPs) per week across North Tees and Hartlepool sites.
Mrs Blair, barrister and wife to Tony Blair, said: “It’s a huge pleasure to congratulate you on the 20th anniversary of the opening of the breast screening and treatment unit in the North Tees Hospital.
“I remember that occasion very well and was honoured to take part in launching the advanced technology and services that would benefit so many thousands of women in the Teesside area and beyond.
“My congratulations to everyone involved in making this unit such a success over the years and my very good wishes to all the staff and patients of today.”
It’s not just Mrs Blair paying tribute on the unit’s anniversary. Patients are also full of praise.
59-year-old Teesside Court magistrate Elizabeth Carroll, from Hartlepool, was diagnosed with breast cancer on 20 December 2012. It marked 11 years to the day after the unit was opened.
She recalls her experience of being told the news by Trust consultant surgeon Mr Colm Hennessey. Elizabeth said: “Being diagnosed with breast cancer was not the Christmas present I was hoping for! As Mr Hennessey gently held my hand and gave me the news, I was terrified and so uncertain of what my future held.”
Elizabeth began her treatment in January 2013, undergoing chemotherapy, a mastectomy and, finally, radiotherapy. Her treatment came to an end the following August – the week before her daughter’s wedding.
She continued: “I was supported all the way by Mr Hennessey and my amazing breast care nurse Geraldine Croft.
“Everyone in the unit – reception and admin staff, health care assistants, radiographers, nurses and doctors. They were all, without exception, kind, caring, understanding and professional.”
Eight years after she was given the all clear, Elizabeth still thanks the team in the breast unit for their dedicated care and compassion. Now she is looking to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary and 60th birthday next year with husband Glenn, her two children Emily and Simon, and her six loving grandchildren.
Elizabeth said: “I am grateful every day that I am here to celebrate with my family.
“I wish everyone in the amazing breast unit joyous celebrations on the 20th anniversary. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for caring for me.”
Developments in the breast unit
The breast unit is made up of a team of devoted members of staff in different duties all contributing towards patient care. This includes:
- consultant practitioners
- breast care nurses
- supporting staff
In early 2020, our Trust became the second trust in England to offer a new method to localise breast cancers during surgery by using small iodine ‘seeds’.
It is one of the biggest breast cancer advancements in years.
The seed, which emits a week radioactive signal, is injected into the tumour in the breast tissue. The signal is then detected by a surgeon, allowing for more precise removal of the tumour.
Looking back on the advancements and achievements within the dedicated breast unit, associate practitioner Karen Coates said: “I am incredibly proud of my role in helping to save lives. I work with an amazing team of people who always put patients at the heart of what they do.
“I love taking every opportunity to make a patient’s journey a little bit easier. My aim is to make them feel comfortable and at ease during their screening appointments and, for some ladies, through their biopsies.”
Checking your breasts or chest
Breast cancer screening: How to check your breasts for signs of cancer
Karen Coates: Hi, my name is Karen, I’m an assistant practitioner. I’ve been working for the breast screening unit for three years now.
We recommend ladies and men check the breast regularly.
Title card: Do I need to attend my breast screening appointment?
Karen: So breast screening is very important because mammograms are the most reliable way to detect breast cancer.
The screening programme aims to find cancers early on before there are any symptoms and any changes in the breast which are too early to detect by yourself or your GP.
Title card: How do I check my breasts or chest at home?
Karen: Your breasts change throughout your life. You need to feel confident about what is normal for you. It is important to know how your breasts look and feel.
Check your breasts once a month, both at the same time.
You can check by looking in the mirror once with your arms up in the air, down by your sides, then on your hips.
Then you need to raise the flat of your hand and you press around your breast all the way around. Small little circles leading up into your nipple.
Put your arm onto your hip and you check from round the collarbone and into your armpit.
Title card: What symptoms should I look out for?
It’s very important to keep a check on your breasts and to look for any changes in symptoms. So you’re looking at a change of size or shape in your breast, redness or rash on the skin or around the nipple area, discharge from your nipple, a lump or thickening that feels different from the rest of your breast. Or a change in the texture such as puckering or dimpling (it can look a little bit like orange peel), your nipple becoming inverted or pulled in or any change in shape. And if you’ve got constant pain in your breast or your armpit.
So if you’ve got any worries or concerns about your breasts, please go to your GP. They will refer you to a symptomatic clinic at North Tees hospital. And ladies over the age 50, please attend your breast screening appointment.