When my GP said he would refer me to the hospital non-urgently to have a lump on my breast checked, I was surprised at how quickly the appointment came through. But the letter explained that, when it comes to breast checks, there is no such thing as non-urgent and everyone is seen within two weeks, whether or not cancer is suspected.
I was given a choice of a Friday or the following Monday. I opted for the Monday, as I already had the follow-up to my MRI scan on the Friday and, I know from experience, just how long and unpredictable hospital appointments can be. Two appointments in a day would just throw up far too much uncertainty. Just minutes after booking the appointment, I got a phone call – I’d booked for the Monday, was that deliberate, did I realise I could book for the Friday? It seems that, when it comes to lumps in the breast, the NHS takes patient care very seriously (and rightly so).
The breast clinic is in a building separate from the hospital. I stress a lot about hospital parking – sometimes it is impossible to find a space and, even when you do, the spaces are very tight. Plus, if you pay for two hours, you can guarantee you will be in there for either 45 minutes or four hours. So I found myself my own space, which is free in all senses of the world. The clinic was further away than I expected and it turned out to be a long walk.
The breast clinic is different from the hospital – quieter, calmer and more homely, despite the fact that the decor is still unmistakably NHS.
I went in to see the doctor 20 minutes late, which, from my experience, is pretty much the same as being early (my record is an hour and 45 minutes late). I talked the doctor through what I’d found and he made some notes before examining me. As he filled in his notes he drew a diagram, which I found quietly, but hilariously, funny. I wondered if he drew them all the same, or if he drew big ones and small ones?! He said I was to have a mammogram and that everything would be done there and then.
A mammogram is a strange and uncomfortable experience, verging on painful, but not quite. You put your breast on this sort of plastic tray and have to contort yourself into the perfect position. The plastic tray was numbered 1 to 4. I noticed another, larger plastic tray that was numbered 1 to 7. I’m guessing the ‘1’ is very small, the ‘7’ is very large. I say ‘you’ put your breast on the tray, it my case it was mainly the radiographer who did it. Maybe larger ladies don’t have to contort themselves as much because they reach the machine more easily than I do. Your breast is then squashed. Hard. Luckily it only lasts a few seconds, because it’s a thoroughly unpleasant sensation. It is repeated with the ‘good’ breast for comparison and then both breasts are checked at a strange and even more uncomfortable 45 degree angle.
It was then back to the waiting room for a long wait. I was expecting to see the doctor again, but actually went for an ultrasound scan. Like you have for a baby, but on the breast. Very strange. As I lay there, feeling remarkably calm because there was nothing bad wrong with me (the GP had said so), I had a momentary panic. What if there WAS something bad wrong with me? What if I’d drifted through the last couple of weeks not worrying and there was actually something sinister going on? (It’s a strange and stupid thing to worry about not worrying. If there was something bad, worrying wouldn’t make it less bad. Lack of worrying is clearly a good thing.)
Then it was back to the waiting room again. Thankfully this time for a shorter wait, as I’d been there two hours already, it was lunchtime and I still had that long walk back to the car.
I’m pleased to say that not worrying was the right thing to do. There was nothing sinister on either the mammogram or the ultrasound. I could have the little lump removed, but it could cause scarring which could ultimately lead to a near-identical lump. What would be the point in that? I just wanted to be sure it was nothing bad and, knowing that it isn’t, I have no desire to have it removed.
So my breast clinic experience had a positive outcome, thank goodness. I was impressed with the efficiency and thorough nature of everything they did. If anyone reading this has any concerns at all about your breasts, get them checked! Nobody is going to tell you off if you get them checked and find everything is fine, they will be as grateful as you are. And if it’s not all fine? Far better to find out sooner rather than later and get it treated.