I returned to the clinic alone. My lovely friend who had come with me on Monday offered but it was the day of the strike and she was marching but because her son's school would be closed by teachers were marching too it meant he would be with her. I couldn't think of anything worse than a small child being forced to hang out in a breast clinic full of middle aged women. When in years to come people were asked where we you on the day of the strike I didn't want that to be his answer! Still a compromise was made with my friend dropping me off and us arranging to meet (hopefully) post appointment.
This time the clinic was packed full of people with a very different buzz about it. It felt less intimidating and certainly not depressing or indeed full of middle aged women as I had expected. The clientele was certainly diverse with even a few men waiting amongst the groups. There was also quite a few young women which again shocked me.
I was sent down to have my mammogram and waited in a hallway to be called in. I sat in a row of chairs with some other women all waiting to be called up for particular procedures. I was called in for my mammogram. Having never had one before but remembering my mother having one many years ago I was pretty nervous about what would happen. I was quite young when my mother had one and the machines looked like a tool of torture. I remember seeing my mother's face in pain but that it was over pretty quickly. However thankfully it looked like the machine had moved on though the procedure hadn't! Still thank goodness that my breasts are not on the small side as I think the more the machine has to play with the less likely it is to hurt. The woman undertaking the procedure was also great. She talked me through what was happening the whole time and making sure I knew exactly what was going on. Her lovely Irish accent sounded so reassuring that again I was pinning all hopes on to the fact that she would have sounded much more distressed if there was really something wrong. I know - but a girl could hope...
I was quickly dispatched back to the waiting area. The same women were still there. There were four of us sitting in a row waiting to be called. Every time someone walked out of room or open a door were four would sit up like meerkats waiting expectedly to be called. I joked with the woman sitting next to me that it felt like being a school waiting for the teacher to call you in because you'd be naughty. We laughed and struck up a conversation. Her name was Jane and she mentioned about her first time here back in May. She told me that she had been diagnosed in May, had surgery followed by radiotherapy and was now on tamoxifen but thankfully there had been no need for chemotherapy. The reason she was back was because she had found a lump but that the surgeon thought it was probably scar tissue but she was just getting it checked. She looked amazing and was just glowing. I felt that even if there was something there it might not be so bad after all if at the end you could come out looking like Jane. She joked that her breast team said she should be the poster girl for Tamoxifen as she had done so well. Maybe, just maybe if there was something there it would be like Jane's lump. She had only been off work for a month and was doing really well and in her words feeling more energised than she had in years and she really did look amazing.
As we continued to wait I said that it would be good if they had a TV so we could watch some inane TV like Jeremy Kyle to take our minds off where we were. Another woman joined in the conversation and started saying that she couldn't believe the people who went on those programmes and what sort of lives they had. We nodded which then gave her the red light to start to tell us about her life which would have given many of Jeremy Kyle contenders a run for their money. She had 7 children all with different fathers of which she was on birth control when she conceived six of them. She lived with 3 of her grandchildren who all had ADHD with two of the fathers saying the kids weren't theirs. She had just had tests for bowel and cervical cancer both of which had been negative but felt the need to tell us what the procedures involved. She had then found a lump in her breast so was here to sort it out. Both Jane and I tried our hardest not to look like shocked Daily Mail readers of Tunbridge Wells and in fairness to us I think we did pretty well. I think what threw it for me was when she said she was 42 - the same age as me! She looked ten years older and had quite clearly had a hard time of it. I just kept thinking we don't need the TV - we have the show right here! She was then called in for her test. Jane and I didn't say anything for about 10 seconds then both just looked at each other and started laughing. Our very own Jeremy Kyle show had just taken place and I am sure we had have been given a whole load more revelations in technicolour detail had she not been called in. Still I was quickly pulled back to reality by being called into another room for a further procedure (hopefully) towards elimination. I said goodbye to Jane and wished her luck as she did me. I hoped I might see her again as she had made that wait so much more bearable but I didn't. I hope it was just scar tissue...
Obviously the mammogram had not eliminated me from this process. I was now going to have an ultrasound. There was a doctor and a nurse in the room who were both lovely and reassuring explaining what was to happen next. The mammogram had shown the existence of the lump and the ultrasound would get a better idea of what the lump was. It would also look at the lymph nodes to see if that might reveal something too.
I took my top off and lay on the coach. I had to lie on my side with my arm outstretched above my head and the doctor tried to make light of the moment by saying that it looked like a very artistic pose whereas my flippancy mode switched on and I said that as much as I like to think that I was lying there looking very rubensque or rennaisance women I was sure it was more Lucien Freud "Women from the Dole Office" which they both found highly amusing - maybe a bit too amusing!!! However the amusement was short lived when he said the lump did not present as a cyst. I was quickly pulled back to reality and switched from flippant to practical mode. "How does a cyst present?" I asked. He explained about the colour - that a cyst was darker and this lump was grey. It also was harder whereas as cyst is more malleable. He was also concerned about enlargement in the lymph nodes which could be linked so he wanted to do a biopsy and a test of the nodes.
As soon as he had given his explanation and next steps I knew deep down something wasn't right and that it would have to take a miracle for this not to be what I thought it was. I couldn't even say the word I just knew that whatever I had hoped for it was not to be and now had a name. This doctor had been doing these procedures long enough - day in and day out not not to know what a cancerous lump looked like along with the lymph node action he mentioned. I knew from my friends' experience what this meant. However I wanted to hold onto the last vestiges that it could be still a benign lump and the lymph nodes were enlarged because I had had a really bad cold and was still getting over it.
The lovely nurse held my hand whilst the doctor undertook the biopsy. I think I am pretty thick skinned as I heard him ask for a blade to cut my skin. I was well and truly numbed up around the area so didn't feel a thing. After he did his bit the doctor slipped away and left the nurse to cover the wound which made me look rather Amazonian with one breast considerably larger than the other!
I walked out of the room to see our lovely Jeremy Kyle contender being given the all clear and sent on her way. I wanted that to be me. Why couldn't I have been sent off like that never to see this place again? However I had a distinct feeling that this was just the start of my relationship with this place and I was going to get to know it a whole lot more.
I walked out of the clinic into bright sunshine and weighed up my odds. I could skulk off home and feel sorry for myself licking my wounds (no not literally) or I could go forget all about this and go marching. I choose the later. I wanted to be able to have a good story to tell my son in years to come about what Mummy did on the day of the Big Strike...and march I did.