Julie Grabham was diagnosed with breast cancer following a routine breast screening appointment. Since her diagnosis, she has launched a campaign to encourage the government to make changes to legislation to allow employees paid time off for their breast screening appointments.

We caught up with Julie to find out how a breast cancer diagnosis led to her award-winning campaigning.

I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in November 2022, following a routine breast screening appointment. Little did I know that that appointment would change my life. I was probably the fittest I had been in a long time. I had no symptoms, I ran every day, and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke, so the diagnosis came as a complete shock.

I had a recall letter, which was quite vague, and as I couldn’t feel a lump, I was sure there was nothing to worry about. When a biopsy was mentioned, I was shown the lump on the screen and to this day, it frightens me how I couldn’t feel it. I then had an 18 day wait to see a consultant to confirm the diagnosis and get the ball rolling with scans etc.

At this point, I was assured treatment would start within 62 days as per government targets. The reality was very different – 100 days. Knowing I had an invasive tumour for 100 days was mentally hard. Eventually, the tumour was removed by a lumpectomy with breast surgery and this was followed by radiotherapy. I started taking hormone tablets and I’m expected to be on these for 10 years. As I was premenopausal at the stage of diagnosis, I am also having monthly hormone implants to push me into post-menopausal status and to enable me to have bone strengthening infusions over the next 3 years. It’s not just a case of removing the cancer, it’s the ongoing treatment that is challenging.

When I told everyone, the kindness and support I had was amazing. We had already planned for my husband Alun to retire after his 33 long years in a high-pressured retail career and my diagnosis gave us proof that life is too short and precious to continue working ridiculous hours, and you should ease up if you can afford to.

I was never afraid that I would die, I didn’t consider that to be an option. My initial worry was I didn’t want the girls or my parents to be upset and frightened. We had very little experience of cancer in our family and so we made sure they knew what was happening every step of the way.

My constant worry was and still is, what if I can’t find another lump – that plays on my mind, but it’s reassuring to be having annual mammograms. I wish I was better educated on breast cancer and that I knew more about the different types of cancer and treatments available. Like many others, my mind went straight to mastectomy and chemotherapy, but that’s not the only route to treatment.

Being in HR I knew that there is no legal right to paid time off work to attend routine breast screenings.

I find it incredible that we have such fantastic free lifesaving screenings in the UK, but it’s down to individual employers to dictate if employees can go and if they will get paid, have to use holidays or work the time back. Employees should not be punished for looking after their health.

So, despite still being on the journey myself, running a busy business and of course, dealing with other life challenges, I had a brainwave whilst out on a morning run that I could make a difference to others. I set up an online petition with the aim to encourage the government to make a simple change to legislation so that employers will give paid time off for these important screenings. The petition ended without the massive number of signatures needed sadly, but that’s not stopping me! Neither is recently being diagnosed with stage 4 chronic kidney disease – nothing is stopping me from pushing this campaign to help loads more women get to those breast screenings.

I am realistic and know to change legislation is a challenge, so I also launched the #JGHRPledge. Quite simply, the #JGHRPledge allows businesses of any size in the UK to sign up for free and commit to giving paid time off for routine breast screenings. So far, 130 businesses are in The Pledge and my aim is to get this figure to 200 by the end of 2024.

I was shocked, delighted and extremely proud to win the award for Inspirational Empowerment at the Butterfly Breast Cancer Awards, as well as an award from my peers in the HR Industry for my commitment to the #JGHRPledge. I’m absolutely thrilled to have my breast cancer campaign recognised and it’s testament that it’s already making a difference to so many, and we are already improving cancer support in the workplace. It really does give me even more strength to carry on being vocal and helping others.

When I look back at what I’ve been through, it feels surreal, and I can momentarily forget that I had breast cancer. Other times, I feel completely exhausted mentally and physically by the whole journey.  I would say don’t allow cancer to be a taboo subject, you don’t have to be as public as I am, but by being open, we help ourselves and others. Overall, I feel proud, that I have been able to use my experience in a positive way.

The future for me is one of more appreciation – not just for what I have in my life, but also for the free screenings we have and how working together, people really can make a difference. My future is more focused on things that matter and making time to enjoy the lucky life I have.

Thanks so much to Julie for talking to us, and we wish her the best of luck with her campaigning.

You can find out more and sign up to the #JGHRPledge by taking a look at Julie’s website.

Published On: April 16th, 2024 /

Would you like to share your story?

We’re always looking to speak to people who are interested in sharing their story and experience of breast cancer. It not only helps us spread awareness but can be helpful for others who are dealing with the disease. If this is a cause close to your heart and you would be comfortable sharing your journey with other supporters, and potentially the media, then please get in touch today by emailing info@preventbreastcancer.org.uk

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About Prevent Breast Cancer

Prevent Breast Cancer is the only UK charity entirely dedicated to the prediction and prevention of breast cancer – we’re committed to freeing the world from the disease altogether. Unlike many cancer charities, we’re focused on preventing, rather than curing. Promoting early diagnosis, screening and lifestyle changes, we believe we can stop the problem before it starts. And being situated at the only breast cancer prevention centre in the UK, we’re right at the front-line in the fight against the disease. Join us today and help us create a future free from breast cancer. If you have any questions or concerns, email us today.