The last thing Bal Gill expected when she visited the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions in Edinburgh was to find out she had breast cancer. But that’s exactly what her trip to the museum led to.
At the thermal imaging museum exhibit, Ms. Gill and her family noticed a hot spot radiating from Gill’s chest. Nobody else in the room had such a spot in the same area, so Gill snapped a photograph to refer to later, and then the family moved on to enjoy the rest of the museum.
“A few days later, when we returned home, I was flicking through my pictures and I saw the image,” Gill recalls.
The thermal image showed the red spot, just as Gill remembered, and none of her family members had anything similar, so Gill began doing some research. When she learned that thermal imaging is sometimes used to diagnose cancer, she decided to get checked out.
The reason cancer can show up on a thermal image is that cancer cells multiply very quickly. This means there is increased blood flow and metabolism in that region, which increases the skin temperature in the area. Thermography isn’t a widely used diagnostic tool, but it certainly has its benefits—namely that it is non-invasive and involves no radiation.
After further testing, Gill’s doctor diagnosed her with breast cancer, but she still considers herself lucky. The thermal image allowed her to get checked out while the cancer was still in its earliest stages.
The 41-year-old has had two surgeries and now awaits one more operation that will hopefully prevent her cancer from spreading. She has very high odds of surviving the disease thanks to her early diagnosis.
While Gill technically wasn’t diagnosed at the tourist attraction, she never would have known about her malignant breast tumor if it hadn’t been for that trip. She later wrote a letter to the tourist attraction to let them know how her visit made all the difference.
“I just wanted to say thank you: without that camera, I would never have known,” she wrote. “I know it’s not the intention of the camera, but for me, it really was a life-changing visit. I cannot tell you enough about how my visit to the Camera Obscura changed my life.”
As it turns out, staff at the Camera Obscura were just as shocked as Gill to learn of their thermal camera’s unique skillset.
“We did not realise that our Thermal Camera had the potential to detect life-changing symptoms in this way,” says Andrew Johnson, General Manager of Camera Obscura & World of Illusions. “We were really moved when Bal contacted us to share her story, as breast cancer is very close to home for me and a number of our team. It’s amazing that Bal noticed the difference in the image and crucially acted on it promptly. We wish her all the best with her recovery and hope to meet her and her family in the future.”
Gill is lucky to have found her cancer in an unexpected way, but most of us will not have that privilege. Be sure to do your monthly self-exams, no matter what age you are, and get your yearly mammograms when you doctor recommends them. An early diagnosis can save a life!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?