It's been an odd couple of weeks.
An odd couple of weeks where I seem to have done more worrying than I've ever done before.
Three weekends ago, during my monthly boob check, I found a lump in my left one.
I left it for a couple of days. I kept prodding it, hoping that it might just bugger off. But it didn't. It was only a little lump and it wasn't painful; just round and hard and ... there. There, where it shouldn't be.
A few evenings later, after having a teary moment of panic, I told Chris about the boob lump. He had a prod about and confirmed that yes, there was a definite thing-there-that-wasn't-always-there thing and we decided that I'd go and see the doctor the next day.
The GP had a good old feel of my chest and she informed me that I have "naturally lumpy breasts" (cheers, love) which made it hard for her to decide what was what. I said that my breasts (I hate that word) have always been like that for as long as I've had them and that to me they're normal but I kept pointing to the bit that wasn't so normal and she said she'd send me to the hospital for further checks.
I knew there was a damn good chance that that would be the outcome of the GP visit (because I'd Googled - I know, I know but I was worried) but the knot of dread that was already in my stomach doubled and tangled itself up a bit more when she said that I'd have an appointment through within a fortnight.
Two days later a letter from the hospital arrived with an appointment date and time.
The stomach knot doubled again. Seeing my name on a hospital letter with words like 'mammogram', 'ultrasound' and 'needle biopsy' was a tad surreal.
So for ten days I've been worrying, stressing, crying, fretting and not sleeping or eating properly. I've been preoccupied and forgetful and I've done stupid things like putting the milk in the oven and walking all the way to the shops without my purse. I've not been able to watch EastEnders because the Carol Jackson storyline was panicking me so much. (I always watch EastEnders.)
My hospital appointment was this morning.
Chris came with me. I wasn't sure what the breast clinic would be like and I was pleasantly surprised at the efficiency and organisation of it all. The waiting room was bright and airy and the staff were all so cheery and nice.
A lovely lady named Jackie called my name and then she took me into a room and explained that a doctor would be in to see me and that she'd give me a thorough breast exam. I was a bit teary (I was frightened) but when the doctor arrived she asked me lots of questions and we ended up chatting about beads, jewellery and her recent trip to Murano and I felt a lot more relaxed. After she'd examined both boobs she checked my armpits as well and then she took a black pen and marked the spot on my left breast where the offending lump was. She told me that the lump was tiny and she said I'd done a great job of finding it. Then I was given a 'modesty blanket' (which I swear was just a lavender-coloured tea towel) to cover up my chest whilst she explained that I was being sent for a mammogram and then an ultrasound.
I put my bra and top back on and took myself and my modesty blanket out to the next waiting room. Chris came and sat next to me and I insisted on getting up and straightening the skew-whiff painting of an owl on the corridor wall. I wasn't expecting to have a mammogram. I thought they only did those for people over forty but no, it's over thirty-five and I'm thirty-six. The breast tissue can be quite dense in under thirty-fives, you see, which can make it hard to read the resulting images. So I felt that dread knot tighten a little bit more because I'd read that mammograms can be quite hurty and painful.
However, for me, that was most definitely not the case. The mammogram machine was smaller than I'd pictured. It was shiny and very techno-pretty. I got my tits out again and the mammographer lady explained that I'd have four X-rays taken; one horizontal squish and one vertical squish (my terminology, not hers) for each boob. After positioning my left breast on the plate (which was funky carbon fibre) and my cheek (facial) on a perspex guard, she pressed a foot pedal and another clear plate came down and squeezed my boob. Then the lady pressed a button and the scanner moved across and captured the image. I reckon my breast was squished for ten seconds maximum and it didn't hurt. It was just a tiny bit uncomfortable but I repeat - it didn't hurt me. I don't have the biggest tits (I'm a 36B in case you're wondering) and I was worried that there wouldn't be enough to put on the plate but I felt a strange sense of pride when I saw the image of my breast appear on the computer monitor. I pointed and said "Oooh! Look at that! That's my boob!" and after the mammographer had taken the other three images (again, zero pain, just a slightly uncomfy pressure) all four images were displayed on the screen in a kind of titty montage in arty black and white. I wanted to ask her for the JPEG so I could Instagram it.
I put my top back on (no bra this time because at this point I was sick of putting it on and taking it off) and gathered up my modesty blanket and sat back down in the waiting room. After a short wait I was taken into another room for an ultrasound. I got my tits out again and the nurse positioned me on my side, with one arm above my head, on one of those paper-covered hospital beds. I felt like Winslet in Titanic when DiCaprio draws her like one of his French girls. I deployed the modesty blanket and chatted to the nurse about the increasing number of men having mammograms and how breast screening places are trying to move away from pink as the predominant colour on literature and the like. They seem to be opting for purple.
The doctor came in, sat down, squirted some gel on his ultrasound scanny reader wand thing and then placed it on my black felt tipped pen mark. Within ten seconds he said "That's a cyst. A tiny, benign, non-cancerous, fluid-filled cyst." He turned the screen towards me and I said "Ah, this is the bit where you show me the heartbeat!" We all giggled and then he pointed at a black spot on the image (the cyst) and said that it will disappear of its own accord. No need for a needle biopsy. I shook his hand and thanked him.
As I was putting my bra and top back on I felt lighter. All the worry and stress evaporated. I felt the dread knot in my stomach unravel and I smiled a huge smile. The nurse handed me a (mainly purple) leaflet about breast cysts and I went out into the waiting room, grinning like a fool, and told Chris we could go home.
And that was that.
I think I've waffled on quite enough now. I just wanted to write this all down in the hope that it might help someone else. During several sleepless nights over the past fortnight I've Googled about what to expect at your first breast clinic visit but I found very few accounts. If just one person reads this and it helps them in any way then my waffling has been worth it.
I check my breasts monthly. It takes five minutes. If you don't check yours, DO IT. Get to know what's 'normal' so you'll be able to spot any future changes. If you do check and you have found a lump but you've left it unchecked, then please go and get it looked at. Yes, it's scary and yes, it can be worrying but nine out of ten breast lumps are benign so it's worth going to have your mind put at rest.
My tits and I are going to have a cup of tea now. Thanks for reading,