Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Bosom bare

Attended the breast screening unit for a mammogram.

I went out of incompetence, because I forgot to cancel. That, and my fear of humiliation, so bashed about the head I am with tickings off that my missed appointment with the NHS just increased the debt to your nation by another 3.5 million. Indeed, the guilty shame of bringing the nation down to its knees is even greater than the fear inspired by Doctor Internet telling me that clapping eyes on an X-ray machine will give me cancer.

But I had every intention of cancelling, yes. Within seconds of opening the 'invitation' I came to the conclusion that I am so low risk for breast cancer I am probably skulking in the bottom .000002% of the mother of all likelihoods.

I live a low-risk life, sadly. I wish it were otherwise. Vegan, non-smoking, no substance abuse, no risky behaviours (unless late-night jam making counts), non-drinking thanks to a hundredweight of antihistamines swilling about my bloodstream, with the last sexual experience conducted in the eleventh century. Life is an ascetic experience more properly suited to the miseries of a medieval nun sat on a rock. I am neither proud nor happy about it. And those are simply the joyless deprivations I am prepared to admit to publicly.

But I reckon it was the unconscious part of my brain that made me forget to cancel. That part of my brain which, if it could articulate coherently, would probably caution, Matey, with your range of freak and borderline experiences - let's include the wildly improbable multiple birth - the chance of a parcel happening again like that is .000002% of all likelihood, so better get that breast screen; better safe than sorry.

So I went. I made myself believe it was out of curiosity; I have never had a mammogram before and wondered what would happen.

I can tell you. Check out the car parks first. Driving around the hospital grounds for fifteen minutes, cursing, with blood pressure rising, is no good way to start. Clearly stated in the letter is Car Park 9. Only there isn't a car park 9. There is car park 4 and 5. Maybe the solitary posts once carried numbers, but the numbers are ripped off. On health and safety grounds? Or simply for my added convenience? So I had to drive round counting car parks. Not much defence, I know, for blocking the ambulance entrance to A&E, but there you have it. When I later found the receptionist huddled in what looked like a riot van parked round the back of the education facility, I suggested I could help out right there and then if she would supply me with a bit of string, a piece of cardboard, and a marker pen.

Once we got started (or after she patiently listened to my complaints about signage), I was processed quite smoothly. Chat in the pre-scan gave me the idea I could back out completely and still save face, but I decided to go through with it if only to find out what happened next.

At this point, I should warn you that if you are fat, you must lose weight immediately. Certainly in the step you take between the reception and the cubicle where you must remove your bra. The cubicle is the size of your broom cupboard after you have filled it with brooms. I am an unimpressive weed of a measly size, and when I took off my glasses my elbows were bashing the walls. Incidentally, those are made of a polyester sheet, so don't bash them too firmly or the whole structure collapses.

Also on the advice list is do not wear a dress, obviously, unless you have a pressing need to show off your Victoria's Secret must-have knicker set to the x-ray lady who isn't interested.

From then on, when you have left the tender heart of the receptionist and the womb of the cubicle, it is all machinery. You intuitively know what it feels like; how your own weak, clay-made body, skin and bone can stand, when confronted by the giant industry of metal and plastic.

The x-ray machine used on me was appropriately called the compression unit, which is exactly what happens. Stand upright - well, exactly as you are told, with a fuss made about pointing feet, shoulder position and elbows - then there is an undignified lifting of the right breast and flopping it out flat on a tray, whereupon it is promptly squashed by an overhead unit pumped down by a foot pedal. Then the left. Then the side. Then the other side. Now you can go.

The fifteen minutes it all took from beginning to end were conducted practically and efficiently, which is either good or bad, depending on your preference. Too efficient at the button pressing and you feel those medicals have forgotten your heart is still beating; too inefficient and there's nothing but a sense of outrage that while you dutifully turned up for the appointment, the disorganised incompetence of the NHS just squandered 3.5 million of your taxes.

For me the time was all redeemed by a touching moment about a handbag. Where is it? Have you got your hand bag? So ladies, my final advice is, even when you are standing naked to the waist in what looks like a riot van with your tender extremities uncommonly squished by a gigantic machine resembling an industrial trouser press, keep your handbag with you, at all times.


Maire said...

I Have had at least two, can't quite remember, the idea of an equivalent test for the opposite sex is a consoling amusement.

This year however I cancelled, they didn't make it easy though.

sharon said...

I was amazingly low risk too but I was diagnosed even before reaching mammogram age! First breast cancer at 44 and the second, when my risk factors (apart from having had it before) were non-existent on the list of triggers, at 53. The second was another primary cancer of different pathology in my other breast. No trace of cancer anywhere else in my body and I had every type of scan available to check this. My younger sister died of breast cancer on her 43rd birthday. Her cancer was yet another type to either of those affecting me. There was no family history of breast cancer in previous generations on either side of our genetic inheritance. In fact the women on both sides have mostly lived well into their eighties. My widowed mother, now 85, still lives a very active life. Do not cancel your mammograms please. I know very well how uncomfortable, demeaning, time-consuming and bloody annoying they can be, but, on the small chance that you - yes any one of you! - have a cancer, it is worth all of it to have it detected early. Ultrasounds are a less uncomfortable procedure but obviously more expensive for the NHS. If you can find the cash, no doubt you could arrange that as an alternative to the boob-sandwich machine.

Climbs off soapbox complete with silicone boobs, assorted scars and a very much valued and enjoyed life.

Deb said...

I just had my first mammogram. Industrial trouser press is right. Even though you KNOW what is going to happen, and even though it's all clinical and impersonal and they may as well be weighing fruit at the grocery store....

There was rather a lot more TOUCHING and REARRANGING than I was expecting. As well as some casual conversation about the quality of my breast tissue. It was super fun.

And the parking! I had a special pass for a special mammogram parking lot and everything, but I drove around for ten minutes before I finally parked in a slot for regular people and hiked half a mile and then when I finally got there, I saw that there were spaces right in front of the door; perfectly good spaces which were emblazoned with a pink ribbon for all us To Be Squished patients and which my poor aging brain must have dismissed. I was so aggravated, I almost hiked the half-mile back and re-parked in the special spot.

But I didn't.

Because I am totally sane that way.

Ruth said...

I've never been offered one. Do you have to be a certain age? Not sure I fancy it now either reading what you have all said. I think the good old prod around works better.

Grit said...

Thank you for your comments people. I'm glad I turned up for it now, Sharon. Ruth, apparently it's the over 50s. You can request one in your 40s or if your family has history.