Ally Armstrong: Passionate about improving women’s breast health
Ally Armstrong was 47 when she was called up to have a routine mammogram as part of the BreastScreen Aotearoa free screening programme for women aged 45 to 69.
Ally duly went for her mammogram, but was asked to come back for a follow-up mammogram and a biopsy.
This didn’t raise a red flag for the Hamilton mother-of-six, who had found a lump in her breast several years earlier which turned out to be nothing.
But that all changed when she was called in for her results.
“The doctor started talking to me and said the word ‘cancer’ and that was it, I didn’t hear anything else after that. It was like I was not even there, I was just in shock. And then the tears started. My mum died of cervical cancer so to me cancer was a death sentence,” Ally says.
Ally then had a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy, radiation therapy and Herceptin treatment.
The self-confessed research fanatic read everything she could about breast cancer and also used BCAC’s Step by Step.
She documented her breast cancer journey in photographs, taking images of her wounds and her body as it changed throughout treatment.
“I just wanted to know everything there was to know and I was fascinated by my body and my recovery and I wanted to record that in some way. I also kept a journal which has been great because I can look at it and know ‘I went through all this, but I’m here now’. That’s got to be a good thing,” Ally says.
She found the chemotherapy treatment difficult and suffered several complications along the way, but says she tried to remain positive throughout.
“I had two weeks of self-pity, ‘why me’ and ‘this is not fair’ and then I thought I need to turn my life around, find out what I’m facing and beat it. I didn’t choose to get cancer, but I was damned if I was going to sit around and let it beat me.
“I was always a firm believer that that there was someone worse off than me so I was just grateful to be coping with what I was coping with. My family and my husband were just fantastic and my colleagues were amazing and allowed me great flexibility so that I could continue working.”
Ally says her experience has made her passionate about encouraging other women to take care of themselves and remain vigilant about their breast health.
“My breast cancer would never have been picked up by feel. It could only ever have been identified by a mammogram so one of my passions now is to encourage other women to look after themselves and get a mammogram!”
Ally says the wealth of research she’s done on breast cancer has taught her that if breast cancer is caught early enough it is usually very treatable.
She says: “I discovered I had many choices, the biggest was to stand up and show other woman that being diagnosed with breast cancer is not the end of the world. Yes, I had six weeks off work recovering from surgery. Yes, I felt sick from chemo. Yes, I developed extensive DVT, but I owed it to myself, my family and all those woman who had lost their battles to help and encourage the women who are yet to journey down this path.”