Definition of irony: slagging off Facebook's No Make-Up Selfies craze; it being the very thing that makes you examine yourself for the first time ever; finding a lump; sitting in the hospital treatment centre five weeks later, shaking uncontrollably whilst waiting to be examined.
So here I am. No deodorant (you're not allowed to wear any) and huge circles under my eyes, having been awake since 3.30am. Everyone else seems to have brought someone with them. I had a lot of friends offer, but I refused them all. It made it somehow real - allowed it more drama and attention than I'm prepared to let the fucking thing have.
Okay. Just been sent to X-Ray. Still shaking. This needs to stop. There's another woman here alone. She checked in just after me. She's in a business suit and ten years younger than me. I know this because we've both been asked for our dates of birth half a dozen times in about twenty minutes. I'd usually consider lying about this...
Feel sick now, too. That'll be the lack of sleep.
There's an old man in a baseball cap with a walking stick sitting next to me. This makes me smile.
I wonder if I should speak to my shadow in the business suit. We must be feeling the same thing. Or is she aware I'm ten years older than her, and feeling pissed off that she's here for the same reason?
A woman my mum's age just checked in. I heard her date of birth. I don't feel pissed off that we're here for the same reason. I feel fucking angry that any of us has to be here, feeling this scared.
Okay. I’m now "stripped to the waist" as instructed, with one of those bloody awful gowns on. You have to do it up at the front (for obvious reasons) but the tags are in weird places so I nearly exposed myself to all the nurses upon exiting the cubicle. My business suit shadow did the same, so we've briefly chatted. "Isn't this horrible?"
Yes. It's horrible.
Lovely nurse took me through for a mammogram, but I can't have one of those, so am back in the waiting area waiting (funnily enough) to be ultra-sounded instead. God I've done some stupid things to myself in the name of insecurity. What a shallow, vain idiot. The lovely nurse didn't judge me. She was sweetness personified. I apologised though. It felt like the right thing to do.
Mum's-age lady is here now, she's reading a book. Business suit shadow is, like me, on her phone. It keeps beeping.
There's an elderly Muslim lady here with her daughter now. God I hope she's okay. You don't want your daughter hearing bad news about your health.
The letter said that eleven out of twelve women leave this clinic with the all clear. There are seven of us now.
Eight. Another elderly lady. I've started working out probabilities. This makes me feel guilty.
Just lay on a trolley and exposed my left breast to a man I've never met before. To be fair, it's not the first time I have engaged in this sort of behaviour, but I'm not usually covered in gel and terrified with my arm raised above my head. Not usually. He believes it's a fibrous lump. "That's normally what they look like." However, they want to take a sample to be certain. Normally this would involve introducing a needle...they can't do that to me. Of course they can't. Aaargh! Surgical procedure then. "But that's the way they were all done years ago." I. Am. An. Idiot.
Back to another waiting area, waiting (haha) for follow up details.
I see a consultant who examines me. First, the breast with the lump, then the other. She makes me feel better about my vain elective surgery. She smiles, “You had very, very little breast tissue, didn’t you?” I nod. She smiles again, sympathetic. She seems to understand. This means my boobs are all implant. It would be dangerous to introduce a needle – obvious reasons. The breast cancer nurse is with us the whole time. “If you didn’t have the implants, we’d have taken the sample by now”, she says. She’s not admonishing me, just explaining how things would normally work. I feel a bit stupid though. The consultant explains that the lump looks and feels absolutely benign.
She is certain.
I want to cry. The relief is tangible.
Because of the slight complication though, there will be a meeting to confirm they are happy for me to undergo six monthly scans to monitor it for the next year or two, rather than go down the surgical procedure route previously mentioned. She looks at me as if to say “Sorry – I know those six monthly scans will be an inconvenience.” I want to hug her. “That’s absolutely fine”, I smile.
The breast cancer nurse sees me out. I tell her how stupid I feel for having implants – that this has made me realise how much more important your health is than anything else.
“You did what was right for you at the time though. No one knows what’s going to happen in the future.” I want to hug her too. She takes my notes, smiles, and tells me I can go. She can see I look worried. She winks. “They know it’s fine. They can tell”, she assures me.
I walk out of the hospital crying with the relief. People will think I’ve had bad news. I’m thinking about all the other women I’ve just left behind me. I hope they’re all feeling the same as me. I hope their lumps are just stupid, annoying inconveniences.
I forget to pay for my parking, so have to go back to the machine. I want to sit in my car and just cry for a while, but I can’t as the ticket will run out. So I drive home, shaking, crying, smiling…
Every single person who dealt with me at the hospital today was sympathetic, professional, kind, thoughtful, practical, and sensitive. Every. Single. One. And they do that every day. I’m stunned by my experience.