What it feels like….To find a lump.
(Spoiler alert, I’m fine. These are just the things I felt and thought over the past few weeks)
It’s the strangest thing, but when I found a breast lump a while back, my brain didn’t engage at all. I was getting dressed. My fingers moved around this sort of lumpiness. A sort of walnuttiness. My mind didn’t really register it. My stomach however, did a bit of a lurch.
It’s funny isn’t it. You think thinking happens in your head, but really, it’s every other part of your body.
“Mum can I have chocolate spread on my toast?”
“No!” (I’m yelling with difficulty because I’m in my bedroom and my eldest is yelling at me from the kitchen. It’s half eight in the morning and if we don’t leave in the next five minutes, we’ll be late for the bus. I’m standing in my jeans, barefoot and I have a mouth full of toothbrush.)
I run to the bathroom, spit, yell back. “You can NOT have chocolate for breakfast! Have peanut butter!” Rinse. Spit. Tug on socks while peeing.
“What about honey, can I have honey?”
“Oh all right!” Where the hell are my shoes?
My younger son yells from the sitting room. “But YOU said honey is sugar, so why is that different from Nutella?” Christ. The needs of the day take over, and thoughts of the lumpiness get washed away by the school run and the day that follows.
About a week later, and John and I doing the kitchen dance. The special dance married couples do, in companionable silence, that you do with the washer, the dryer, the clothes horse and the dishwasher. I remember. “Oh!” I blurt. “I forgot. I think I found a lump.” His face turns a shade of grey, and he insists on copping a feel. I would have cracked a joke, but he was a bit grim about it. John lost his mum to cancer more than ten years ago. We talk about her all the time. I strip off in the living room, and replicate the explorations of the other day. Thinking to myself, I’m sure I imagined it.
“Yup. I can definitely feel it too. Will you call Dr. Lynch in the morning, get in as quick as you can, just in case?” He doesn’t joke either, even though we’re standing in the living room and he’s grabbing my boobs. Not even a token honking noise. I decide not to think about it at all until I’ve seen the doctor, and so we go back and finish the kitchen dance. But the silence is now fatter with the things we’re not talking about.
I’m sitting in the symptomatic breast clinic in the Regional. I fucking hate pink, and everything is pink. I’m surrounded by it. The Patient Guide that came speedily in the post was a soft shade of pink. (It was actually really clear and helpful) It’s probably pink to soften fact they have to print the word ‘Cancer’ on it. ‘Regional Cancer Centre, Mid-West’.
On my wedding day, the only thing I said to my florist was, “anything you like, whatever’s not too fussy, just no pink.” And then on the day, 25 massive pink centrepieces arrived. Luckily I was having the best day ever or I might have been miffed. Now I’m surrounded by pink again. Now why on earth am I thinking about that? I guess I’m avoiding the harder issue, which is exactly how I’ve spent the last few weeks, simply thinking about other things, and deliberately, with intention, not worrying. Working, eating, sleeping, writing, reading to the kids. Being happy. I realise that I really, really love the life that I have been given. I’m a bloody lucky woman.
Everything is clean and new here. Like I said. Lots of soft pink. There are lots of staff behind the counter, and about thirty people waiting patiently. There’s a big TV, and a coffee doc, and comfy chairs. There’s a hum of efficiency. There’s a really good looking doctor calling patients in. I mean, he’s a total ride. He’s the guy you’d cast in a rom-com set in a breast cancer clinic. Sort of rugby player handsome, with sandy stubble on a strong jaw. I wonder does having a handsome doctor help make this a bit easier for women? The way they stun cattle at an abattoir. Jesus, I shake off the dark thoughts and make myself a cup of tea at the conveniently well stocked corner. They should have gin here, I think.
A short while later, I’m going through my medical history with Dr. Hottie. I realise that I’m probably at ten years older than him, and he’s a doctor in training. God, when did I stop being young? 38 isn’t young. But it’s not old either. Am I a grown up yet? Focus Emily. He’s talking about allergies, and I’m thinking, definitely rugby. Or maybe football. Because his ears and nose aren’t in tatters. All Cancer doctors should be rides. It makes the whole thing far less icky. I crack a few jokes. He looks a bit alarmed. Maybe I’m not supposed to be this chirpy.
He gives me a gown, and leaves so I can get undressed. He also brings in a grey haired nurse so he can have a go of my lump without fear of a lawsuit. Everyone here has an aura of kindness hanging on them. A sort of gentleness, like they’re cotton wool people. He checks me all over, locates the lump. He says I’ll most likely be heading next for mammogram, followed by ultrasound later in the day, and they’ll decide after that if I need a needle biopsy. I’m not surprised, my GP had already said that the mammogram and ultrasound would happen today. The ridey doctor heads off to get the consultant, to present his findings. I take a gown selfie, for John.
For the first time, I allow my mind to open the box where I’ve been keeping the C word. I take it out, but rather than think about it, I watch the sunlight slight through the slit of the closed blind. It’s pretty. The room is quiet. I can hear my heart beating. The consultant arrives.
He’s clear, concise and authoritative. Less cotton wool, more cotton swab. His beard is pretty awesome, and he looks a bit like a wolf. Golden eyes and dark skin and a salt and pepper beard, though he’s definitely not much older than me. When you’re older than the doctors, is that when you’re old old?
I think he might be Australian. Or maybe Kiwi? I’m doing it again. Now what’s he saying?
As he examines me, he takes the younger doctor through his paces, quizzing him on the endocrinology for thyroidectomy, a small procedure on my chart from a decade ago. Of course, this is a teaching hospital. I’d forgotten. Dr. Hottie stumbles through the questions. They come at him like bullets, rapid fire. Complicated bullets with long chemical names on them. He dodges the first few, but then Dr. Wolf lands a few zingers. Maybe looks aren’t what you should base your doctor selection on.
And then I dodge a bullet of my own.
He says something like – “Ms Ross, you have several lumpy areas, that is what previous exams have shown, but I can’t find anything nasty here. I will schedule a mammogram to be sure, but there is nothing for you to be alarmed about.” And he’s gone. I think of a truck, stuck on a railway line – watching the high speed cargo train speed past at 160 miles per hour, on the other track.
Close call, I think.
I’m a bloody lucky woman.
Alone in the room, I text my husband, and my mum. I sit and look at the sun on the windowsill, and I just breathe in the lovely silence for a bit. And then I get dressed, and go home.
Stuff you should know.
- You should check your breasts every month, and probably not during your period, as hormones can cause some tenderness.
- 8 out of 10 lumps are noncancerous, so if you find one, you shouldn’t panic. But don’t dawdle either. Go see your GP. And try not to worry.
- Here’s how to check your breasts. For example, you probably haven’t been using a mirror to look for changes in symmetry, now have you? Have a read.
Still reading? Oh, OK then 🙂 John, you’re a fucking saint, and a rock, and way ride-ier than any pup doctor. I also have some wonderful women in my life, who love me more than I deserve. You know who you are. xxx