As a woman of a certain age, I like to think that I’m vaguely aware of the various health-related issues which occasionally need addressing, and I also like to think that I’m generally on top of such matters. However, during a particularly luxuriously indulgent bubble bath one evening, it suddenly came to my attention that all was not entirely as it should be in the boob department. My relaxing bathing ritual instantly turned into a soapy worry-fest as I discovered a new, and very much unwanted, lump.
As my discovery was made fairly late in the evening, way past my local GP surgery opening hours, I spent an anxious night obsessing over all manner of things until 9am the next day, when I could finally ring up and book a doctor’s appointment. As soon as the words “breast lump” escaped my mouth, the receptionist turned into Mrs super-serious. “Dr Malone can see you at !” she announced almost instantly. Stunned by the immediacy of the appointment I automatically agreed, bolted down some corn flakes then fetched my coat. It was then when it dawned on me that I hadn’t actually heard of this particular GP and began to fret that I’d be intimately examined by a man. I know it SHOULDN’T make any difference whatsoever, and now was definitely not the time to turn all bashful. I needed to be checked out as soon as possible and all GPs have done this type of thing hundreds of times before, but I managed to work myself into a right panic all the same.
On arrival at the surgery I was informed that Dr Malone is a female, and the look of relief on my face must’ve said it all. The two minutes I sat in the waiting room seemed an eternity, but in all honesty it was the briefest spell I’ve ever spent in there. I was called to an examination room and, after explaining my bath time findings to the nice lady doctor, she made small-talk with me while groping my upper body, all legal and above board. She agreed that there was, indeed, a lump and she duly filled out a note for me to take to reception, where they would book a hospital referral for me. I was a tad alarmed to see the words “rapid response” written down and immediately went into panic-mode once again.
Within minutes the super-efficient receptionist had accessed my NHS ‘healthspace’ on her computer and I’d been booked to see a specialist at the local hospital two days later. The lightening speed of the process literally stunned me. No matter what we all say about the National Health Service, and I’ve had more than my fair share of reasons for vocalising my extremely negative opinions regarding NHS treatment in the past, they DO seem to take things of this nature very seriously indeed. Astonishing efficiency between the NHS and the post office meant that my hospital paperwork arrived the following morning. I was to wear a t-shirt for ease of removal rather than a shirt with complicated buttons and I was to avoid antiperspirant.
By the time my appointment had arrived I was sweating like a proverbial pig, no small thanks to the instruction regarding the non-usage of underarm sprays, and I’d convinced myself that the news would not be good. My other half was gravely concerned that his ‘fun bags’ had become poorly and was uncharacteristically quiet as we sat waiting to be called up. Eventually, I was requested to step into a tiny side room by a rotund and overly-chirpy breast care nurse who quipped “Just take your top off – don’t be shy!” Now, 20 years ago, with about a gallon of Bacardi inside me, wild horses wouldn’t have been able to keep my top ON. As I sat there feeling rather exposed, I spotted the inter-connecting door. So, there I sat, topless and vulnerable, unaware as to exactly who was going to come in, and through which door. Make mine a double!!
A minute or two later a female doctor entered the room and I faced an encore of the whole legal groping episode. The diagnosis was “probably fatty tissue” however; a mammogram was now required by way of a second opinion.
My visibly-concerned other half, who’d been patiently waiting in the corridor while I endured the preliminaries, escorted me to the x-ray department, which wasn’t entirely as straightforward as you might think in a re-vamped but distinctly Victorian building. At one point I felt rather like a contestant on The Crystal Maze, only without the shell-suit or the eccentric bald man. On arrival at yet another reception desk, the paperwork was swiftly dealt with and we sat down in yet another waiting area, which was actually a small stretch of corridor with half a dozen plastic seats along the wall, and a slightly wobbly table displaying a couple of well-thumbed copies of Women’s Own and a Practical Caravanning Magazine. As a 100 percent heterosexual female I found it deeply disturbing that I seem to have become obsessed with looking at other ladies chests! How can something so normal-looking be so potentially deadly? Unwelcome thoughts began to enter my mind as I stared at my feet trying to avoid any socially inappropriate behaviour. I was relieved to be rescued from myself as I was eventually called in for my mammogram.
The petite young radiologist assured me that even the most flat-chested ladies manage to fit into the monstrous contraption which stood before me. I wasn’t entirely convinced; however, she quickly loaded what looked like a videotape, but was some sort of x-ray cartridge, into her computer and began to position me. “Put your right hand on your head, lean into the machine, grab the handle with your left hand…….try not to crack your head on the apparatus….” It had to be the most unnatural pose ever! Within seconds a vice had grabbed my right boob and turned it into what looked like road-kill. Flat as a pancake it was. There were four x-rays to be taken in all, two with the left and two with the right, all requiring the kind of balancing act that would not seem out of place in a circus. I wouldn’t say it was painful, but it was definitely uncomfortable, both physically and mentally.
While I struggled to regain a shred of dignity, wishing that my skimpy t-shirt was actually a huge woolly jumper, with a polo neck which I could yank right up over my crimson face, my photographer explained that a consultant would now assess my x-rays and he’d decide on what the next step would be, and so back to the plastic chairs I went. About five excruciatingly long minutes later a nurse arrived and unexpectedly announced that I was to be taken away for an ultrasound scan. As someone who has faced the joys of pregnancy in the past I’m fully aware of what ultrasound is, but I wasn’t expecting to have it done to my top half. Paranoia set in once again.
As I lay down half naked in yet another small room, the humourless, elderly, male consultant asked if I’d ever had this done before. Not wishing to elaborate on whatever alcohol-fuelled party games I may, or may not have, indulged in during my hedonistic youth I simply muttered something along the lines that I’d had children and was therefore familiar with the process. The obligatory cold gel was unceremoniously squirted onto me, making me flinch, and I was poked and prodded some more before finally hearing the words I’d been longing to hear for the past few hellish days; “There’s nothing to worry about”. Phew! If the consultant had been slightly more user-friendly I’d have hugged him, and I admit to being more than a little tearful at my healthy verdict. My previously gloomy other half suddenly looked as if all of his Christmases had come at once on receiving the good news, and at last, it was back to the tiny side-room with two doors for the final word from the breast care nurse that my lump, or, as the ultrasound showed, lumps in the plural, were nothing sinister.
I can’t begin to explain what a heavy weight this had been on my shoulders over the comparatively brief period of time between that less-than-relaxing evening bath and getting the all-clear, and how lucky I feel that I can go off and enjoy my life, unlike so many unfortunate women, and a tiny but equally important proportion of men, who aren’t as privileged as me. So, until I get the age-related call-up for my routine mammogram once I hit my half-century, I shall endeavour to enjoy my baths and be utterly grateful that while I can’t exactly give Jordan a run for her money, and my boobs may indeed follow the adage that ‘more than a handful’s a waste’, they’re perfectly fit and healthy, which is plenty good enough for me.