Last week I had to ring my GP to sort out a prescription for Andy. While I had the receptionist on the phone I thought I would just raise the question of mammograms. It's standard practice in the UK that women aren't asked to have a mammogram until they are 50 unless there is a family history of breast cancer. (I think it might be 40 in Nova Scotia but don't quote me on that.) I only briefly mentioned that both my mother and aunt have had breast cancer and before I could finish the question I was being told that Lorraine (the receptionist) would have a quick word with the doctor and would ring me back later. By 10:00 am the next morning I had an appointment at the Pink Rose Suite at the local hospital for a full breast exam.
I was pretty relaxed when I walked in to our dingy local hospital and made my way to the Pink Rose Suite (the breast cancer ward). Our local hospital is in serious need of a complete make over, with one exception: the Pink Rose Suite. I suppose if any ward in a hospital is going to look warm and welcoming it would be that one. Even the local private hospital doesn't have such a nice decor.
Anyway, I figured I'd be there an hour at best but talking to the consultant, having a breast exam followed by a mammogram and ultrasound takes a bit longer than that. Especially on a busy ward. I was feeling a bit like a fraud for even being there and was a bit taken aback when the consultant turned to the nurse and said 'this lady is very worried re her family history'. I blurted out 'No I'm not', but I couldn't help it. I wasn't worried. I don't usually worry unless I'm smacked straight in the face with something definite to worry about. I'm sure he's just used to talking this way considering he must deal with frightened women on a daily basis. I decided to ignore it when he said it again as it didn't really matter if I was worried or not. I was actually finding the whole thing rather interesting and thinking about how lovely the whole staff team seemed to be which goes a long way in treating people who are actually scared of what they may potentially be facing.
I was very curious to undergo the mammogram as I've often heard that it hurts. Some women have said it's pretty uncomfortable. Me? I found it slightly uncomfortable. Of course I have ample breasts that were easily maneuvered onto the machine before being nearly compressed flat. Fat breasts equal less discomfort I guess. Either that or it's just my high level of pain tolerance. I'll stick with the former.
Anyway, after I'd been there two hours and had already been told by the ultra-sound technician that my breast were clear I went back in to meet with the consultant to review the report:
Mammogram and ultra-sound: clear:
Need for an MRI scan: low (at this point)
Risk for getting breast cancer within the next ten years: high
(There were a few other results that he mentioned that I can't remember the name of, but they were low and nothing to worry about).
He then reviewed the percentage of the possibility of my getting breast cancer, which was 45%. My response was that 45 wasn't overly high...more or less 50/50 or close enough. He said 'Yes it is - it's more than 30% so we consider that high'. Oops my bad. Percentages have never been my thing. However if the cancer specialist says my chances are fairly high then so be it. Either way I reckon most of us stand a 50/50 chance of developing some form of cancer. Maybe that's pessimistic of me but I bet most of you know at least one person if not two or more, who have been hit with the Big C.
The consultant then offered me the option to undergo gene testing. This surprised me slightly as I never thought I would be offered the choice yet it made me feel much less of a fraud. However after a two minute discussion with him I opted not to. I will re-evaluate it in a few years maybe, but for now I'm good. He seemed satisfied with this and said for the time being he recommends that I attend the clinic yearly for a full breast examination and mammogram.
I said thanks for drawing circles all over my breast with purple marker and left. No, I didn't really. I said thank you for everything and see you next year.
I called Andy from the car park to tell him that all was clear and at least for the foreseeable future he isn't going to lose his primary source of amusement.
On a serious note, I feel I've made the right choice about not undergoing the gene testing. I know in this technology fuelled world, people often opt for being able to find out information ie. the sex of a baby, however on this matter I feel that I don't need the gene test. If the situation was much more serious and I'd lost a young female family member I might think differently. For now I'm content with with not knowing what the future may or may not hold.