And so it goes…

The month of July has been one I’d probably – mostly – forget. Firstly because of my husband being very poorly indeed, and then…my turn.

If you do  not want to read about breasts and needles, leave now.

A year ago I had some odd happenings with my left breast. It had decided to leak. Seeing as I have never had, and never wish to have children, lactation was not and is not desirable. Cue GP visit, who just said keep an eye and see how things go. She wasn’t unduly worried but it just kept on happening. Badly some days, others days barely noticeable. No pain, just…leaking.

Then a few weeks ago, the fluid turned black. Let me tell you, when you see black liquid welling out of your own nipple, your inner calm makes a run for it.

Then it just ran clear again. After my momentary panic, I went right back to the nurse, who sent me for a breast scan.

The breast scan turned out to be two mammograms, one of which was so painful I cried, then an ultrasound, then a needle biopsy which GODSDAMNIT do not have that without a local anaesthetic. My pain threshold is good, but yeesh. By the way, doctors who do those biopsies, OFFER A LOCAL AS A MATTER OF COURSE BEFORE YOU SHOVE A NEEDLE IN. The needle went in right at the bottom of the areola, and felt like it was about an inch wide. I am well aware it was not.

That was actually one of the most lonely experiences I have had. Lying twisted at an awkward angle in a hospital room – a very cold hospital room – with all things medical going on around me, the ultrasound probe being pushed into already painful bits of me, being spoken about, not TO…all the fears I’d buried came to the surface and leaked out of my eyes. Finally I managed to ask the Dr what she was DOING, and begged please tell me what you are doing, don’t just treat me like a piece of meat lying here.

Anyhoo, after an hour of that, it was back to the consultant who said I’d been brave but still didn’t give me a sticker.  He says he thinks I’ve probably got nothing to worry about, as there seems to be a tiny cyst in the milk duct that’s causing problems, nothing more sinister, and to come back next week.

I fell over this weekend a bit, I admit. I thought the pain would dissipate, but it hung around, occasionally making me want to take my breast off and put it in a box wrapped in cotton wool, bubble wrap and kindness.

Finally today the pain has subsided.

For goodness sake, how can ONE NEEDLE cause so much hurt? I grant you, the muscle aches from the two mammograms probably didn’t help, but sheesh.

I’m hoping they don’t decide to do another one ‘just to check’ when I go back on Friday.
The main problem with this mammogram wasn’t the two ‘side on’ ones, that are usual. It was the ‘front on’ one. Because they had to try and see all the nipple, the ducts and the tissue behind the nipple, basically your boob goes front on into a mangle. That mangle then get sat on by an elephant. Or at least that’s what it feels like.

I’m one of the ‘lucky’ ones who still has firm boobs at the age of 47. I say lucky…but breast density means the darned things DO NOT FLATTEN no matter how much pressure the plates exert, so there was lots of twisting and manipulation of the breast to get it to be in the right position. Oddly, it didn’t want to stay put, so had to be forced.

I’m mortified that I actually cried out when she applied the plates for the third time. Stoicism failed utterly. The last thing I wanted to do was scare the others in the waiting room but it just…came out.

Still, at least I can cross my arms again now without wincing. It’s vitally important to have these things done, I know that, but I cannot help but think that if men had to have these done as routine, there would be a far better way of doing them invented very, very fast.

No doubt I’ll get a letter in the post any day now saying I’m due for a smear test…

As I was sat in the waiting room, looking around at my fellow women, all either mid treatment, or waiting for treatment, or waiting for diagnosis, it struck me that from around the age of 10 onwards, women are routinely subjected to invasions of their body. We have routine smears, routine mammograms, then we have the ones that aren’t routine, investigations, proddings, pokings and we have to do them all WITHOUT EVEN ADEQUATE ACCESS TO THINGS AS SIMPLE AS DECENT POCKETS.

I felt at one with my ladies in that room. There was a kind of resigned camaraderie there. An undercurrent of fear, yes, but also one of teeth gritted “Let’s bloody well get on with it then.”, and a willingness to share support and commiserate with others going through the same toe-curling procedures.

It’s not an experience I want to have again, really, but it’s one I’m glad I’ve had, if that makes sense.

http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/clinical-breast-exam

Breast Exam

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