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Posts Tagged ‘BreastScreen Qld’

A couple of years ago I wrote about my gratitude after a mammogram and a visit to the breast clinic. I finished that post by saying:

“I am one of the lucky ones. I left with a sore breast, a big smile and a light heart. The shading of concern in my scan was just a cyst. […] But the chances are that at least one of the women who smiled at me in that waiting room won’t be so lucky. So, while I feel great relief and gratitude for myself, I am sending my thoughts to those other women. Mothers, grandmothers, lovers, colleagues, friends, I hope that if your news was bad today, that it was caught early. I hope that you’ll be treated and will regain your strength and spirit and that you’ll laugh and love for many years more.”

Two years later, I have become the other woman – the unlucky one in the statistic of one in eight women developing breast cancer. And yet I am dancing (figuratively – it’s still much too sore to literally dance) because it was caught early, because I am going to be okay, because I feel like the luckiest woman alive.

pink grapefruit

Today’s post is a celebration of good news after bad, and an urgent call to all women to have regular mammograms.

I had no lump that could be felt or seen, I was strong and healthy and I was madly busy, busy enough to ignore the first reminder about my mammogram being due. The second reminder prompted action and I booked an appointment. The resulting scan highlighted microcalcification “most probably benign” according to the pathology report but worth investigating further. The subsequent biopsy revealed high grade, aggressive cancer inside one of my ducts, cancer that appeared to be invasive.

All of this has happened in the last three weeks. I have been diagnosed, hospitalised, had a lumpectomy and sentinel nodes removed, and now have the wonderful news that they got it all out. I won’t need chemo but will still need a course of radiation (probably six weeks). I am cancer free.

pink grapefruit after eating

The alternate scenario (and the one that I would have fallen into if I was one of the staggeringly huge 55% of women who don’t have regular mammograms) is that I wouldn’t have found the cancer until it became a lump that could be felt. Given how deep inside my breast it was, that would have taken a long time. Given how aggressive it was, by the time it could be felt in my breast, it would almost certainly have invaded my lymph nodes and, via them, whichever other parts of my body it fancied.

Ironically, on the same day that I found out that I had early stage breast cancer, I read an article suggesting that mammograms weren’t useful and didn’t prevent death from breast cancer.

I am so disgusted by this reporting. Apparently the machinery they used in the Canadian experiment is outdated compared to what we use here, the technicians weren’t trained in reading the scans properly – or in placing the breast to get the most effective scans – and yet, for many women reading the headline, it will give them a reason not to bother going for their regular check up.

That’s part of why I’m writing this post. I want to celebrate my newly regained health and praise the doctors, nurses, radiologists, pathologists and myriad others who found and removed the cancer. And I want to raise my voice and call out to other women to go for their mammograms.

As far as breast cancer goes, I’m young (45). I have no family history of breast cancer. I’ve never smoked. I’ve eaten well and lived a pretty healthy (albeit sedentary) life.

If it happened to me, it could happen to anyone. Please, please, go and get yourself checked regularly. The minor inconvenience and discomfort of having your breasts compressed is nothing compared to the utter joy of being alive.

* The photos are of my breakfast before heading into hospital. As I sliced the grapefruit in half I became uncomfortably aware of how like a breast it was sitting on my plate. Didn’t stop me from eating it though!

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Today I calculated statistics in my head, worked them like a mantra while I looked around a room filled with women in hospital gowns. We sat around the walls, a square coffee table in the centre, and surreptitiously eyed each other over the fake flowers and the pamphlets.

reclining nude by Tiziano

TIZIANO Vecellio: The Venus of Urbino

Just before Christmas I went for my first mammogram (because I’ve reached the age where mammograms are considered necessary, not because I had any concerns). I’d forgotten all about it until, five days ago, I received a phone call telling me that I needed to come in for further tests.

The woman on the phone was friendly and calm and told me not to be alarmed. The chances were it was all fine, there was just some density in the scan that needed to be checked. This morning at 7.30 I had to be across town at the large BreastScreen Qld centre in Chermside*. I took off my shirt and bra and put on the faded gown and went to wait with the other women who had also been called in because their scans showed abnormalities.

There were at least fifteen of us in the room and I pressed each face, exposed throat and V of chest into my memory like flowers. We’d been given a handout to read and, while it helped answer questions, it didn’t allay my fears. The handout said that about 7 per cent of people who go for mammograms get called back for these additional tests (I’d thought it would be more), of this 7 per cent, only 10 per cent of us will have something to worry about. The spectre of breast cancer is of course in the backs of all our minds.

I stared at these women – mothers, sisters, lovers, daughters, friends – and realised that, if the stats were right, then at least one of us would leave the room with bad news. I was the youngest one there and I felt a surge of relief that it probably wouldn’t be me. But then I looked at the lines on the faces and the worry in the eyes and regretted my selfish response. I wanted today to be a good news day for all of us. I wanted each woman to leave with a lightness in her step and the knowledge that she was healthy.

The doctors and nurses were warm, efficient and understanding. The volunteer at the front desk brought cups of tea and comfort. A couple of the women talked to each other. The rest of us read our books or magazines and tried to smile when we caught each others’ eyes. I spent two hours there and saw six different specialists. Each time I came back to the waiting room I tried to gauge the news the others had received but most eyes stayed down.

I am one of the lucky ones. I left with a sore breast, a big smile and a light heart. The shading of concern in my scan was just a cyst. A surgeon inserted a needle and drained it. (I asked to see what came out and rather wish I hadn’t!) I know my breasts are healthy after a physical examination, two ultrasounds, a further mammogram and the draining procedure. I don’t need to go back for another two years unless I have concerns or experience any changes.

But the chances are that at least one of the women who smiled at me in that waiting room won’t be so lucky. So, while I feel great relief and gratitude for myself, I am sending my thoughts to those other women. Mothers, grandmothers, lovers, colleagues, friends, I hope that if your news was bad today, that it was caught early. I hope that you’ll be treated and will regain your strength and spirit and that you’ll laugh and love for many years more.

Find out more about breast cancer.

* Something else to be grateful for: that I live in a country where there is superb, free care provided to people who need it. I saw six professionals today and underwent several expensive procedures and didn’t have to pay a cent. Thank you Australia.

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