A top cop who has been diagnosed with breast cancer has launched a Met-wide campaign with the aim of encouraging her colleagues to check themselves regularly.
Detective Superintendent Tara McGovern, 46, attached to Central Specialist Crime, has today, Tuesday, 18 June, brought ITV Lorraine’s Change and Check campaign to the Met.
The campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of checking regularly for the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, by placing Change and Check stickers in changing rooms across the country.
The stickers detail the symptoms of breast cancer such as lumps, rashes and dimpling and remind women to see a doctor or nurse if they become aware of any irregularities.
Tara appeared on Lorraine this morning live from Lewisham police station to show her support for the campaign and to encourage as many women as possible to check themselves.
Last month, Tara was at home recovering from chemotherapy when she turned on the Lorraine programme. Tara saw the show launch its Change and Check campaign and she instinctively knew that it would work at the Met, as many officers and staff change at work into and out of their uniforms.
Enthused by the idea, Tara wasted no time in contacting the Lorraine show and asked them to support her in sharing the campaign with officers and staff across London.
Within a matter of weeks 10,000 stickers – the show’s largest order – were placed in locker rooms, gym changing rooms and toilets across 320 of the Met’s properties, 80 of which are police stations.
Tara, said: “The response from Lorraine and her team was better than I could have hoped for. They have provided us with 10,000 stickers to display in Met buildings to encourage women to check their breasts regularly. I also plan to work with forces across the country to ensure the message is pushed to our colleagues outside of London.
“It was brilliant to appear on the Lorraine show this morning, even if it helps just one person I’ll be happy – although I really hope people will hear the message and start checking themselves regularly!”
Lorraine Kelly, said: "We're thrilled to hear the Metropolitan Police Service is joining our Change and Check breast cancer campaign. Breast cancer affects one in eight women and early detection can make all the difference.
"The Change and Check stickers were the brainchild of our producer Helen Addis. When Helen was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer last April, it hit the team like a ton of bricks. But Helen showed real grit. She was determined to get the word out there and make sure women were being as vigilant as possible.
"It's taken another woman, Detective Superintendent Tara McGovern, to push for the stickers to be used in Met buildings. She was off sick herself when she first heard about them. She spoke to the relevant people within the force to make it happen. Like Helen, she wanted something positive to come out of her own situation. Hopefully more women will see them and check their boobs as a result."
In the UK, more than 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the higher the chances of successful treatment – this is a message Tara really wants to get across.
Tara has been told that her prognosis is very good, all because she found the cancer early. Now Tara wants to use her experience to encourage women to regularly check themselves.
When Tara was just 11 years old, her mother sadly died of breast cancer at the age of 42. Tara does not have the mutated genes associated with hereditary breast cancer, but she knew that the disease is random and can strike anyone and so she asked her GP how to check her breasts properly – something she has done every month or so since her early 20s.
That is why when Tara felt a lump in her breast, even though it was only small, she immediately knew it was not right.
“It was New Year’s Eve 2018,” Tara explained. “I should have been getting ready to go out for a night on the tiles and look forward to the New Year – I’m always the first in the queue for a good shindig! 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. My plans, work, holidays – everything was put on the backburner as I came to terms with what this diagnosis meant for me. I had no control. I kept contemplating what was going to happen to me, if I would respond to treatment, the impact it would have on my family and work. All those things were really tough. I just wanted to know the plan, get on with it and get my life back on track.
“The lump was small and my surgeon was surprised I had even noticed it. It’s a good job I did notice it because the cancer was aggressive, it was already in my nodes and if I hadn’t of found it when I did, it would have spread around my body.”
Tara transferred to the Met in September 2015 on promotion to detective superintendent from Hampshire. Tara’s initial posting was to Lewisham, but her dream job was to work in Central Specialist Crime, which is something she achieved in 2018.
“When I discovered I had cancer a couple of months after successfully achieving my goal of a posting to Central Specialist Crime, I thought the timing could not have been worse. But when is a good time to discover you have cancer?” Tara explained.
Tara’s treatment started almost immediately after her diagnosis with chemotherapy and her cancer has responded well. The lump has now gone meaning the surgery she has will be minimal.
“I feel lucky, positive and can’t wait to get back to my life,” Tara said. “What could have been a major derailment has instead been a minor unpleasant detour, all because I found the lump early.
“I’ll be back soon - wiser, fitter, stronger and feeling positive, grateful and extremely lucky. I have had great support from the Met as well as an amazing network of colleagues, friends and family around me.”
As well as getting support from her colleagues and line managers, Tara joined the Met’s Cancer Support Group. The self-help support group regularly meets and has email forums and aims to offer support to the police family when faced with a cancer diagnoses as well as to support their loved ones and carers and those in bereavement.
Tara, who launched the Met’s Network of Women (NoW) last year, has now set-up a group called Breast Mates, which will sit under the Cancer Support Group. Breast Mates is a support group for people in the Met diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as for those whose loved ones have been diagnosed with the disease.
“Since being diagnosed with breast cancer I have met and spoken to women within the Met who also have or have had it,” Tara said. “Their stories have inspired me and I know helped with how I have been able to deal with my treatment and some of the side effects. I want to ensure that anyone diagnosed in the future has the opportunity to have a ‘buddy’ to speak to, to provide support and advice.
“I know it’s tough for some of these women – treatment is brutal and sometimes goes on for years – so by providing support and looking after their wellbeing we can ensure we can provide them with what they need so they can return when they are ready and are looked after appropriately. I also plan to open this group up nationwide, because I know that if I had been diagnosed in the counties I would have been very isolated.”
Tara is now hoping that her colleagues will get behind the Change and Check campaign.
“It’s a fantastic campaign. It’s so simple but so effective,” Tara said. “I wanted to raise awareness among my colleagues and friends anyway, hardly any of them were checking themselves or they said they were too young and they will wait for their screening when they turn 50, but it is a disease that can strike anybody and the sooner you find it and seek treatment the better. When I saw the campaign on Lorraine I knew it was a great way to spread the word.
“I wanted something good to come out of my diagnosis. I wanted to use this time to do something worthwhile and help my colleagues and friends – and not just women but men too. I want my male colleagues to speak to those they love and encourage them to check themselves, and of course breast cancer is also possible in men.
“If people at work see this campaign and find something and have an easier treatment because of it then it has been worth it. If we can help just one person then it has been worth it. If everyone reading this, or everyone who watched the Lorraine programme this morning, check their breasts then that’s a great thing.
“Get to know your body and what’s ‘normal’ for you and if you don’t like the feel of something act and go to your GP, they won’t mind if it’s nothing! Attend all health screenings available, do not put it off! It may be a little inconvenient but it could save your life and ensure you have many more nights out on the tiles and new years to look forward to.
Learn how to check your breasts by following Dr Hilary’s step-by-step guide, and for more information and helplines for breast cancer please visit this website