Monday, 28 September 2015

The C Word (part one)

Cancer.

Some people still can't bring themselves to say the word out loud let alone discuss it in public, yet it affects so many of us. I'm not up to date with the statistics but I know I've lost far too many loved ones over the years to the awful illness.

I think it's for this reason that I've been a long term financial supporter of Cancer Research, but about nine years ago, a school friend lost her battle with breast cancer and passed away at the tender age of 40. Since then, I have also supported breast cancer charities. Whether it's dropping a few coins in a collection box on a shop counter, buying t-shirts and pin badges or donating my unwanted bras - I give where I can.

In the summer of 2012, I discovered a lump in my right breast. I say I, it was actually my husband that noticed it. It was one of those Saturday morning cuddles that was meant to lead to sex, but when he fondled my boob he simply said 'Babe, something doesn't feel right'. I checked my breasts simultaneously for comparison then each one in turn. He was right. Something was definitely amiss.

I phoned my GP's surgery first thing on the Monday morning. I didn't give the receptionist a chance to ask whether my symptoms were urgent I just blurted it out 'I need to see a doctor, I've found a lump in my breast.'

Later that day, I'm on the examination table. The doctor confirms the lump. As he completes a referral form he tells me to ignore the word cancer in bold letters at the top. 'Its just a form, it doesn't mean you have cancer. Contact the clinic as soon as you can and get an appointment. They have to see you in the next two weeks for definite'

As soon as I get back to my car, the first thing I do is call the number on the form. I'm in for Thursday that week and extremely grateful the appointment is so soon as I was due to leave the country on an extended family holiday the following weekend.

The wait was awful. Seriously, I don't recall eating or sleeping much in those few days and I kept myself to myself. I confided in no-one and just functioned on automatic pilot.

The day of my appointment came and I booked in at reception. I don't know what was going through my mind at that stage if I'm honest as I sat and waited, but there was lots of nervous half hearted smiles and hand holding going on between me and my partner.

When I got called in to the consultation room, a nurse explained the procedure to me; consultants examination, mammogram and possibly an ultrasound. She asked me to undress my top half, pop my clothes into the basket provided and put a cape on so it opens at the front.

Following routine questions from the consultant I'm examined. Like my doctor, he confirms the lump and duly draws a cross in black marker pen where the offending lump is felt. X marks the spot.

The nurse then took me to the next waiting area for my mammogram. My husband is allowed to wait with me, but I have to go in alone. I removed the cape and stand upright against a machine. My breast was placed carefully between two clear plates; once from top to bottom and then again sideways on. The procedure was done for both breasts despite a lump only being detected on one side.

I then wait for my ultrasound. Again, I have to go alone. Thankfully it's confirmed that the lump is a harmless cyst, a fluid filled sac that can easily be drained, should I choose. Yes, of course I want it drained. If I don't, I'm going to be forever conscious of it and probably unable to detect if it ever changes.

The consultant is pleased with my decision and confesses he wouldn't have been happy if I'd have left without having it done.  He pierced the cyst with his first insertion and the whole affair was over and done with before I knew it. Painless really. A bit like having a blood test.

Before I left, I'm assured once again that the cyst is just that and perfectly harmless but I'm made aware they are likely to re-occur so regular self examination is vital so they can be treated without delay.

I thank the staff for their kind and compassionate attention and walk away relieved, hoping I don't have to go back.


Footnote: This blog has been inspired by the Protect Your Breasts Campaign.
You can follow them on Twitter @PYB-cancer



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