I was at a meeting of the City Council on Monday night when the news filtered through that Breastcheck would FINALLY be coming to the city. Having spent years reporting on the dedicated campaign for Breastcheck, on the thousands of Waterford people who marched and signed petitions, on the committed local politicians who never tired of lobbying for the breast cancer screening service, I’m perhaps more aware than most what a long but ultimately worthwhile road they’ve travelled.

More than four Irish women are being diagnosed with breast cancer each day and early detection of breast cancer gives the best chance of a successful outcome and long-term survival. And it is quite simply a fact that some women will have slipped through the net because of the delay in Breastcheck arriving in the city. The results of a survey by the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Irish Cancer Society last year demonstrated concrete proof of the inequalities that exist between public and private cancer treatment. Apparently, 69 per cent of private patients had to wait two weeks or less for a mammogram – to screen for breast cancer – compared to fewer than 6 per cent of public patients. Breastcheck offers a free mammogram to all women within a certain age bracket and I would wholeheartedly urge all of you who receive a letter in the coming weeks to snap up your appointment.

I was shocked to learn recently that routine screening of women – especially those at high risk of breast cancer – is no longer carried out in Waterford Regional Hospital. Even if, God forbid, your mother, your sister or any other female relation suffered and maybe died from breast cancer, you cannot avail of a routine mammogram regularly to keep your mind at ease (a woman with no family history of breast cancer has a one in 10 lifetime risk of developing the condition, but if her mother or sister had the disease at any age, her risk may be increased two or three times).

In fact, you have to wait until you think you may have found a lump before you can be referred on for a mammogram in Waterford. To me, that sounds like a situation you’d hear about in the Third World. Then again, some might say that elements of our health system are nearing resemblance to something you’d find in the Third World.

I’ve mentioned before that it’s great to hear a woman’s voice on the City Council and once again I was relieved to listen to Cllr Mary Roche at Monday’s meeting of the local authority, when she challenged the decision not to offer free screening to women over the age of 64 (Breastcheck appointments are currently offered to 50-64 year olds).

Cllr Roche made the point that the average lifespan for a woman in Ireland today is well over eighty years and it is simply not equal treatment for women in the last 20 years of their lives to be left without a screening programme. This judgment, according to Cllr Roche, is ‘discriminatory, ageist, sexist and, in her opinion, should be illegal’. She ponders whether women over 65 years are somehow less valuable to society or less worth investing in than those under 64.

The Government were more than a little shell-shocked when the over 70s united against the medical card issue and Cllr Roche believes this issue is another that should galvanise them – and everyone else – against the powers that be. And she’s right! One of the biggest risk factors for the development of this type of cancer is advancing age and an estimated one in three new cases of breast cancer every year are amongst the over 65s.

ON a lighter note – and especially for any man reading this who has not turned away at all my talk of boobs – you might be interested to hear that a bra made especially for men is taking Japan by storm.

Mail order underwear company Wishroom started selling the unusual underwear last year and have since been inundated with orders. In Japan, men who wear bras are known as “Bra-o”, which means “Bra men”. One author has even produced a book in which they interviewed around 100 men who like to wear bras, most of whom are white collar businessmen in their 40s and 50s. Another, more surprising market, is the 50 and 60 year olds who, it turns out, are also partial to the calming effects of a bra. They’re not interested in cross-dressing or in making their pectoral muscles look bigger… they simply find that wearing a bra makes them feel ‘more calm, relaxed and revived’. The manufacturers maintain that Japanese salaried men have a lot of stress and the bras seem to relieve that.

So, ladies, the next time you see the man your life stressing out, give him a loan of your bra til he calms down. Can’t see it going down too well in my house.