Woman learns she has cancer from photo at tourist attraction: 'I would never have known'

A British tourist was stunned to learn she had breast cancer after a photo opportunity at a museum picked up on the presence of a tumor.

Bal Gill, a 41-year-old mother from Berkshire, England, visited Camera Obscura & World of Illusions in Edinburgh, Scotland, during a family vacation in May 2019 and later wrote to the museum to share how one of its attractions may have saved her life.

"I visited with my family in May 2019 during the school holidays," Gill explained, the museum revealed in a press release. "We had been to Edinburgh Castle and on the way down we saw the museum. While making our way through the floors we got to the thermal imaging camera room."

According to the museum, the thermal camera offers guests "the chance to see just how hot, or cold you are" — and for Gill, the attraction revealed a surprising hot spot on her chest.

"As all families do, we entered and started to wave our arms and look at the images created," she said. "While doing this I noticed a heat patch (red in color) coming from my left breast. We thought it was odd and having looked at everyone else they didn't have the same. I took a picture and we carried on and enjoyed the rest of the museum."

After Gill and her family returned home to England, she came across the image again in her camera roll and decided to do some digging on thermal imaging and the possible significance of the hot spot.

She discovered that thermography, also called thermal imaging, is a tool used by specialists that utilizes a noninvasive camera to measure the temperature of the skin on the breast's surface.

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Since cancer cells are growing and multiplying at a rapid rate, blood flow and metabolism may be higher in cancerous tumors than in non-affected areas of the body, the theory behind thermography presents. As blood flow and metabolism increase, skin temperature goes up, which is how thermal cameras may be able to detect cancer's presence.

"At this point, I searched on Google to see what this could mean and I saw a lot of articles about breast cancer and thermal imaging cameras," Gill recalled. "I made an appointment with the doctor and as it turns out I do have breast cancer, thankfully really early stages. I have now had two surgeries and have one to go to prevent it from spreading."


Andrew Johnson, the general manager of Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, said he was moved to learn of Gill's story, "as breast cancer is very close to home for me and a number of our team."

"We did not realize that our thermal camera had the potential to detect life-changing symptoms in this way," he said. "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 ultimately expressed gratitude toward the museum for the lucky incident that led her to seek early treatment.

"I just wanted to say thank you: without that camera, I would never have known," she said. "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."

Gill's story comes amid Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual October campaign meant to increase awareness of the disease and highlight the importance of education and research.

In the United States, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

In 2019, the nonprofit estimates that 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S., as well as 62,930 new cases of noninvasive breast cancer. It also estimates that 41,760 women will die from breast cancer in the U.S. during this year alone.

Thankfully, the group says, death rates from breast cancer have been on the decline globally since about 1990, in part due to better screening and early detection, increased awareness and continually improving treatment options.

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