Durham MP Mary Foy urges women to go for their mammograms as she faces cancer herself

Mary Kelly Foy MP who is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer, at an event held by charity Future Dreams
Mary Kelly Foy MP who is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer, at an event held by charity Future Dreams -Credit:Craig Connor/ChronicleLive

City of Durham MP Mary Kelly Foy wants to encourage women attend cancer screening appointments, like she did, so that the devastating illness is caught as early as possible.

The Labour MP was among women with breast cancer at a Gateshead event held by charity Future Dreams, with the support of the region's NHS. Held at the BALTIC on the Quayside, the event saw women who live with or who have had breast cancer offered support, advice and the chance to chat to others who have lived with the illness.

There were also practical sessions about how best to exercise and eat well to boost cancer recovery, followed by yoga and meditation sessions. Speaking at the event, MP Mary spoke about how while her own cancer diagnosis and surgery had been impressively swift - she went under the knife within three weeks of diagnosis this winter - she was concerned about the "postcode lottery" people face when it comes to care.

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She said she had been lucky to be cared for at Gateshead's Queen Elizabeth Hospital thus far - "they've been brilliant", she said - and also felt that charity events like the one held by Future Dreams were important. She said this was especially the case as often the vital services that can help people through a difficult diagnosis might not be available in the North East.

The MP told ChronicleLive: "I had the diagnosis and then I've already had the surgery - so in a way I've had the cancer and then, hopefully, I've not had cancer, across in just a few weeks. That's where we are and now it's just about waiting for a couple more tests to find out more about what comes next.

Women with breast cancer and those who have recovered attended charity Future Dreams' first innovative pop-up Wellbeing Day at Gateshead’s iconic Baltic Centre, held in partnership with Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust.
Women with breast cancer and those who have recovered attended charity Future Dreams' first innovative pop-up Wellbeing Day at Gateshead’s BALTIC -Credit:Craig Connor/ChronicleLive

"My breast cancer nurse told me about this event and it's been great, you just want to find all the information you can. It's also the guidance, advice and support that you can get - it's been useful already. Although I don't yet know what my treatment journey will be going forward, there's still a lot that will be useful for me going forward and that will benefit me."

She said added: "It's even things like exercise and healthy eating - everyone sort of knows that you should be doing those things but to see the numbers... And the support side of things is useful - we're all on our cancer journeys, at different stages some of us, but we're all here to tell the tale.

"For me, part of it is I am going to be doing whatever I can to get people to go to their mammograms. That's why my cancer was found at the early stages, while treatment has also come on such a long way. The survival rate has increased brilliantly and there's so much we can do - if we can find it [cancer] and get it diagnosed quickly."

The former Gateshead councillor - who has long been vocal about the need to tackle inequality affecting health in the North East, said that she had been surprised to learn how many women don't attend screening - and urged anyone thinking about that to put aside fears that it might be embarrassing or uncomfortable and to make sure they attend.

"It's incredible to have this event here in Gateshead and in the North East. We know in the North East we suffer from health inequalities and things like the difference in life expectancy here compared to other areas are horrendous. So whatever we can do to improve health and women's health we should be doing."

Also at the event were Gateshead mother-and-daughter Catherine and Tina Walker, who have been through breast cancer in the last couple of years. Catherine, 28, has spoken about the toll it takes, especially when you are among the youngest on the cancer wards.

Catherine, a primary school teacher, said that since her treatment had finished, returning to normal life had been difficult. She said: "I found that life after cancer has been a lot harder than I had first imagined. I didn't expect how much of a toll it would take on me.

"Since my treatment finished I have struggled with my mental health at times., with what I have been through. When you are diagnosed what is good is you are thrown into treatment and you're in fight or flight mode."

Catherine added that events like this one helped with navigating life after cancer - saying: "It's been a great day so far. When you finish treatment, you do know there might be long-term side-effects like fatigue and things like that, and you want to get back to normal life but it's hard. I've gone back to work full-time as a teacher and it's full on.

"Events like this are where you can have conversations with others and you recognise 'yes, that's normal' but there's also the advice on 'here's how to deal with it'.

The event came about after Caroline Tweedie - a Macmillan lead practitioner supporting those living with cancer at the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Trust - met the charity's Jackie Wright at a conference and invited them to expand their work to the North East.

The event was hosted by the Gateshead Health NHS Trust at the Baltic, with the trust having set out its ambition to become a centre of excellence for women's health.

The charity helps people to feel less alone during their cancer journeys with a range of online sessions covering topics from exercise to wig-fitting or the menopause. Future Dreams also has a dedicated breast cancer drop-in centre in Kings Cross, London