Detective Superintendent Tara McGovern is currently on sick leave, from the Metropolitan Police following a breast cancer diagnosis. In her first blog, Tara explains her story, the importance of knowing and checking your body, and how one morning spent watching daytime television led to a national campaign being launched.

New Year’s Eve 2018. I should have been getting ready to go out celebrating and looking forward to 2019– I’m always the first in the queue for a good party. Instead, I was at the doctors’ surgery discussing a lump I had found in my breast two days earlier. Within two weeks the lump was confirmed as breast cancer and my life had turned upside down… plans, work, holidays, everything, put on hold as I came to terms with what this diagnosis meant for me.

When I was 11 years old, my mother died of breast cancer. She was 42. So, since my early 20s, I have checked my breasts regularly for lumps. I am too young for NHS screening so had I not checked myself and found the cancer early, my story would be potentially the same as my mother’s or I would be facing radical surgery and an even bigger fight.

When I found the lump, I knew it wasn’t right and I acted straight away. The lump was small and my surgeon was surprised I had even noticed it. After the diagnosis, treatment started almost immediately with chemo and my cancer has responded well. The lump has now gone, meaning surgery will be minimal and I will have access to the newest drugs to prevent it re-occurring. I feel lucky, positive and can’t wait to get back to my life. What could have been a major derailment has instead been a minor unpleasant detour and I’ll be back to work soon – wiser, fitter, stronger and feeling positive, grateful and extremely lucky. The support from the Met has been fantastic and I am lucky to have an amazing network of colleagues, friends and family around me.

My story shows the importance of checking yourselves regularly. Discussions with my friends, made me realise how few of us do, we either never get around to it or don’t know how to check ourselves properly. Some of us put off screenings as we are “too busy” to attend.

Examining yourself takes five minutes once a month. Get to know your body and what’s ‘normal’ for you and if you don’t like the feel of something act straight away. Attend all health screenings – the NHS doesn’t have the money to waste on screening that isn’t effective, so if it’s available, do it. Taking these steps could save your life and ensure you have many more New Years to celebrate.

Spreading the message further

I wanted to get the messages all our officers and staff – but I wasn’t sure how to. Whilst watching the Lorraine show on ITV in April 2019, I saw the launch of the ‘Change and Check’ campaign that  encourages women to check their breasts for signs of cancer. The campaign targets women whilst shopping or at the gym by placing stickers (shown left) on mirrors prompting them to check themselves. I could see how this would work in Policing, we could display the stickers in changing rooms and toilets so officers and staff would see them whilst at work.

I contacted the show and asked them to support me in sharing this campaign across UK Policing. The response from Lorraine and her team was amazing – they initially provided me with 10,000 stickers to display in buildings, lockers rooms and toilets across the Met to encourage women to check their breasts regularly. Lorraine included a feature on her show to promote the work we are doing and to raise awareness of this campaign which we have renamed Breast Mates.

We are currently in the process of launching nationally across all police forces.