Wednesday, 21 March 2012

"And the magazines are in date..."

I received a call from the breast clinic to make an appointment for me to come in and have some tests. I was told by my line manager that in her case she was booked in for a whole day and as they proceeded with the tests you were eliminated along the way dependent on your results and when I say eliminated its not in a "shot 'em up' computer game sort of way but in a more gentle, "Get your top on your rack is fine" or "Plop your stack on here and see what's lurking in them there titties". Not that either phrases were used to me but I think you get the drift of what can happen.

So you can imagine my confusion when I was given an appointment for 3:00pm on a Monday afternoon. What happen to the whole day of tests? Why was I only being given a couple of hours? Had my doctor given his 'benign' opinion (I mean my lump being benign not his opinion!) and that it was all fine and didn't need a whole day to investigate or was it so bad that they could cut to the chase and do the 'big' test last. Again having no idea how any of this works all I could do was let my over active mind work overtime yet again. I had now moved on from the main roles in the made for TV tearjerker and had begun to cast supporting roles. I won't share this now as my friends may read this blog and I want them to stay my friends. I also don't want anyone to feel that have been miscast though I did have in mind Graham Norton, Joan Collins and Minty from EastEnders (don't know the actor's name but one of my friends bears an uncanny resemblance!) - to be starting with - though I will let my friends work out who in which role.

A lovely friend of mine took me to the appointment. I warned her about the series of tests and the elimination process before we got there so she could be prepared for a wait. I arrived at the clinic which was pretty quiet - I think me and maybe another couple of people (and I think a couple of them were from the WRVS cafe - the tabards should have given them away). Soon after arrival I was called in by a  nurse who I have to say seemed pretty cold and not very reassuring. I had it in mind that anyone who worked here would be incredibly warm and effusive because of the nature of the place (and as well because of my limited experience of these things I expected them to be a bit fluffy and pink and full of reassuring words and upbeat mantras like the people I had encountered on the Race for Lifes I had done - I know, I know - one is fundraising event and the other is a hospital - I have worked that out for myself since) because of the nature of the place but I suppose like any place you become immune to it all and frankly how warm and effusive can you be when you've been doing it for years and its the end of the day and you're sick to death of looking at another pair of tits!!! (unless of course you work in the world of adult entertainment then I suppose you'd be brimming with effusiveness and if indeed not warmness you'd expect warm hands!)

I tried to lighten the conversation by asking a series of rather inane questions but she wasn't having any of it and did her best to answer in as few words as possible if any at all. She told me to take my top off, lie on the coach and gave me some flimsy scratchy oversized kitchen roll in that lovely hospital blue colour to put over my breasts. She then went off I assumed to get the consultant but it could have been the hospital porter, tea lady, receptionist, car park attendant, passing stranger or all of them for the amount of information she imparted. Thankfully as this 'journey' sorry 'gap year' has progressed I find that a) I have only ever encountered her once since [thank god] and b) she is certainly the exception rather than the rule.

I lay on the coach in a state of flux. Part of me wanted the consultant to hurry rush in and give me the lowdown but the other part wanted this moment to last longer to suspend the inevitable so that I could just continue to be the pre-lump me - without a health worry in the world - and that all of this would just be silly little blip or should I say cyst that would go away and all would return to normal. The consultant came in to break my mind's meandering and introduced himself and started the examination. He quickly found the lump and confirmed this. He then asked me to get dressed and said he would return. Once dressed he came back and confirmed (again) that there was a lump (no surprises there then!) and that I would need to have a mammogram and followed by an ultrasound to confirm any findings. I had assumed this is what happened so no surprises there and expected to move to the next stage before hopeful elimination. But no the surprise was that I had to come back on Wednesday (2 days time). I was shocked as had psyched myself up for it all happening today and to have come back again just threw me. Also Wednesday was the day of the General Strike for all public sector employees over pensions of which I was intending to strike and go on a march in Brighton. I was also concerned about whether staff would be available but the receptionist reassured me that they had to be here to as it this is an essential services.

The appointment lasted no more than half an hour. I went back into the waiting room to find my lovely friend having a veritably wonderful time with a late lunch laid out in front of her and a stack of magazines. She was in mid mouthful looking like she could be happily enscounsed for the next few hours. She saw me and expectedly asked whether we were done. I said we were but that all he done was confirm there was a lump so really no further news but that I had to come back for more tests on Wednesday the day of the big strike - what rubbish timing. However hopefully I'd be done quickly in time for marching in the late morning.

She finished her lunch and gathered our things and as we left she said, "What I shame it couldn't be all sorted out today for you. I had hoped you'd be able to get an answer.". "So had I. I'd pinned so much on today and knowing more and all I know it was I already know. Still I'll know soon enough." We walked to the car. "I'm sorry it was so quick as you looked nicely sorted for the rest afternoon with your lunch and all those magazines." I said to my friend. "I know I thought you'd be awhile and can you believe it this never happens but all those fantastic magazines and they were all in date. When does that ever happen" One satisfied customer at least. Hopefully another to follow on Wednesday...

Friday, 2 March 2012

I touch myself.

Well this journey (no sorry) potential gap year started with an innocent shower one Saturday morning in November. As this post title might suggest a shower isn't being used as an euphomism for a bit of onanism (oh how many 'isms' can I get in one sentence). I was indeed having a shower and getting myself into a bit of a lather (no again not in a self loving kind of way but in a way that involved shower gel). Whilst lathering up I proceeded to touch myself around the breast area (God this sounds so clinical as trying hard to veer away from the erotic - though no concerns that happening so far unless of course clinical talk gets you going!) Having had a number of friends that have had breast cancer I suppose I've become more aware of examining myself (albeit not that intently) when in the shower and suddenly I felt this lump under my left breast. So from having a general feel I suddenly went into panic mode and the anxiety levels began to rise. I touched myself again in the hope it was just a lumpy muscly ridgey thing (making my breasts sound really attractive now aren't I???). But no it was definitely a lump which I couldn't remember ever feeling before when I've been in this touching myself up scenario.

I then started to feel more panicky and a bit weirdly tearful but really tried to calm myself down as I was feeling this was a complete overaction. For godsake woman it could be anything, I thought, so why are you thinking the worse within a minute of finding it? I got out of the shower and started to check my breast in the mirror.

I just have to say it still wasn't a pretty or erotic sight me trying to haul my big boob up to see if I could see anything under my breast in a steamy bathroom with my glasses on so I could actually see which in turn where steaming up too (again I am sure there are some choice internet sites that may pay good money for this though I cannot understand or even begin to fathom why). So I touched it again and the lump was still there though from what I could see not visible through the skin.

I needed a second opinion so went to my partner to see if he could feel anything. "Touch my breast" I said presenting it to him whilst he was just waking up from his slumber. I think he thought that all his Birthdays and Christmases had rolled into one. He began to have a good feel of my left tit. "Well when you ask and present it so nicely it would be rude not to." he said starting to move into a better position to get mauling. "No not like that I mean I want you to touch my breast at the bottom - I think I can feel a lump that wasn't there before. I just need to get a second opinion." He sat up and started to feel my breast. He started somewhere near the lump then proceeded to move to the side of the breast and said "Yes I can feel something and its quite big." "What?" I shouted. "Yes all round here I can feel something." he said as he continued to squeeze the side of my left breast. "No you fool that's my breast you're squeezing and as you know they are quite big, but not there, down here." I said rearranging his hand whilst continuing to yabber at him mindlessly saying "You squeezing down there and saying its quite big is like me squeezing one of your testicles and saying yes I think your right - it is a lump!" Exasperated by what I was feeling was a poor judge of second opinioner but desperately wanting to have got it wrong myself he then quietly said, "Yes I can feel something. You should get that checked".

I moved away from him and sat on the bed. "Look it could be nothing but you need to know so there's nothing to worried about yet is there?" He was trying to get me to snap back into practical mode and not dwell on something that I had no idea what I was dwelling upon. As far as I was concerned it could be one of two things - malignant or benign and the only way I would know was to make an appointment with the doctor.

The following week came and went and I still had not made a doctor's appointment. In fairness to me I was so busy struggling to meet deadlines it just wasn't at the forefront of my mind. Subconsciously I had stopped the touching myself routine so I suppose I didn't have to acknowledge it was there - something that I am still struggling with starting up again.

But by the end of the week I knew I had to make that appointment as I work from home on Mondays and it would have been the best day to go. So by Friday I had made the appointment and I was going to see the my doctor on Monday evening. I asked for a double appointment as I felt I needed to make sure he or I were not being rushed.

I did pretty well about forgetting about it over the weekend which you can do when you have small children around you demanding of your time and was still struggling to get my work down on Monday. My mind was reeling with a number of things. I had applied for voluntary redundancy from a secondment. It felt really unfair as for the first time since I had my son I was really enjoying my work but because of organisational restructure I was being forced to leave and return to my old posting which I had hated. It felt even worse because I was still needed in my current job until they filled the vacancy internally. I was angry and feeling really hurt that they couldn't have found a way to keep me. I was also feeling really used. I wasn't good enough to be kept in the restructuring but I was still expected to work full pelt. However I had taken the control back and made a decision to take voluntary redundancy, get some cash, spend a bit of time with my little man before he started school and get another job when I was ready. My partner was behind me and things were starting to feel good. I was back in control and things would get better. Or so I thought...

Monday came and as the day progressed I became more agitated. My appointment was at 6:00pm and was with one of the lovely doctors at the surgery - a male one at that. I had been given a choice between him and another female doctor, but I had a better history with him. He was one of the partners in the surgery and getting to see one was like winning the lottery. He was older and I just always felt reassured and listened to so felt he was a better choice. However as I sat in the waiting room I felt sick. The anticipation of what would happen next was overwhelming. I can't remember a time I felt so anxious about something. My body was rooted to the chair in which I sat but my legs wanted to pull me up and make me run away from the situation I might found myself in. "Get a fucking grip woman", I kept saying to myself. In my head my life was already descending into one of those daytime TV specials about a Mum (or is that Mom - as they are inevitably American) with a young family dying of breast cancer bravely trying to keep it altogether but succumbing to this terrible disease in her prime! My thoughts raced to who would play me or my partner (Selma Hayek/Johnny Depp - I'll let you guess whose playing who). I was pulled out my reverie by my doctor calling my name...

I explained to him why I was there. The touching myself scenario though with less detail and my concerns. He asked me to lie on the examination table and once I was settled proceeded to examine my left and right breast. I was suddenly wondering if he was a good choice because he is an attractive man and I started to feel really embarrassed that a man I had seen on numerous occasions had not seen me in this position and suddenly was getting a eyeful of my mammaries close up and personal. He was very gentle but his hands were cold and I started laughing out of nervousness and because it tickled. It felt inappropriate to be laughing but I couldn't help it. So I went into my fallback flippant mode and made an apology for having to end his day this way just before going home to his dinner. He looked at me strangely but obviously thought he should smile and continue as if I hadn't spoken. I then babbled on about my partner's examination and sharing my joke about the testicles which again on reflection was probably not the best place or time to have shared this. 

At first he couldn't feel anything and I started to feel less anxious. However a few seconds later he said he could feel something. He obviously had some visual tests or signs he was trained to look for in these circumstances. He said he thought it was probably benign as he proceeded to feel under my armpits stating that he couldn't feel any lumps their either. Again my anxiety levels began to subside. Maybe I was being an alarmist and actually I just had a lump that was going to turn out to be nothing at all. However he said, "I have to refer you to the breast clinic to ensure that its nothing more. In the old days we would do the tests here but we can't anymore." I asked him what a malignant lump looked like and he said that there were visual characteristics like dimpling of the skin around the lump and the nipple, an inverted nipple, soreness or pain none of which were obvious in this case. However a mammogram and ultrasound would give a better indication. I had already done a bit of research on what happens when a lump is found and he confirmed that I would receive an appointment within two weeks and then further tests would be taken. 

As I left his office thanking him for his time he took my hand and held it in his saying not to worry. However I felt that his eyes and body language were saying something quite different. I wanted to hold onto his words that he didn't believe it was malignant but yet he couldn't be sure. He hadn't told me that it was nothing and I was just one of those lumpy muscly ridgy breasted beasts with nothing to worry about. I had become somebody who needed further investigation. 

Although my anxiety levels had subsided by seeing my doctor they began to rise as I left the surgery. I still didn't know for sure what the lump was. I didn't want to think worse case scenario but it was there in my head niggling away. I called my line manager to tell her I had yet again missed my deadline but also to tell her what had happened. She needed to know that there were bigger things afoot than me just being belligerent about my job and refusing to meet my deadlines. I started to cry as I spoke to her. The first time I had really properly cried about finding the lump. She was great and tried to reassure me by telling me she had recently undergone a similar experience and it was all okay in the end. Again clutching at straws I tried to take what she and my doctor had said as being positive things for me. I was going to be okay. It was going to be alright. Women found lumps in their breasts everyday of the week and they were fine. The odds were good and wasn't it 1 in 8 or was that 1 in 3 women or 1 in 10 (or was I getting confused by the UB40 song). Anyway it was 1 in something so I would be fine. 

However as I walked up the hill back home I knew I was no nearer to feeling better and even further away from the truth of what that lump meant. As I recalled that first day of finding the lump and wishing it had never ever happened a random tune came into my head. A completely inappropriate tune for the matter in hand, but one that has stayed with me since. As I thought about where all this had started this song seemed more and more appropriate. I vaguely remembered the video on Top of the Pops with the very curvaceous lead singer writhing around on the floor rubbing her body and basically just having a good old feel up of herself. Its kind of become an unofficial anthem to all of this as it started in the shower with me just doing just what the female singer of The Divinyls cooed into the microphone 'I Touch Myself'. That's what I did and far from it conjuring up the sexually explosive feelings that it did for the lead singer it was about to become explosive for me in a whole lot of other ways...