Friday 18 November 2016

Return of the Mammogram

Two weeks after I had my review with my surgeon (read about that in my last post) I was back at the hospital for my yearly mammogram. 

I wasn't overly worried about my mammogram as I had had one before on the day I was diagnosed. After I'd been told the dreaded news that I had cancer I was sent off for a mammogram just, as my BCN put it, to tick a box. I’d already had an ultrasound and biopsy before I was diagnosed so I might as well have a mammogram as well. 

The mammogram on the day I was diagnosed went perfectly fine. The nurse was really nice – although I had been told five minutes earlier that I had breast cancer so you’d like to think she wouldn't be mean. I can't remember it hurting too much either. Or maybe it did and I was just hoping the machine would squish the breast cancer right out of my boob.

After my mammogram I was swiftly whisked back off to the ultrasound room. Dr ultrasound scanned my right boob. This was strange as my cancer is in my left boob. I asked the mammogram nurse if they think I also have cancer in my right boob. The mammogram nurse welled up and didn't say anything. Dr ultrasound said ‘we don't think so’ and looked back to the scan screen. 

When I got back to the clinic room my BCN told me they thought I could also have cancer in my right boob but it turned out to be just a calcification. Phew.

I was still fairly numb after being told I had breast cancer so my memories of the mammogram itself were positive in that it probably wouldn't hurt too much and maybe a little negative too in that the mammogram could show that my cancer is back. I haven't actually had any scans since I started treatment over a year ago. They think I'm ‘cancer free’ but as we all know they can't be sure. 

So I enter the mammogram clinic with mixed emotions. The nurse seems nice and welcomes me in to the mammogram room. The mammogram machine looks as large and menacing as ever.

I give my name and date of birth to the nurse. She makes a confused face at the screen and then says she has to nip out and check something. I wonder if that's because I'm only 28 and she wonders why I'm having a mammogram? Does that mean she thought I looked over 50 when she called me in from the waiting room? I was still trying to work out if I should be offended when she came back in to the room. 

‘Ok Kirsty. If you just take of your clothes and glasses and stand in front of the machine. Don't worry about the window. It's one way glass’.

I looked through the window horrified as an old man looked at me dead in the eye as he waited at the bus stop outside. 

‘Hmm I'll close the blind anyway. That’ll make you more comfortable’ suggested the nurse. 

I stripped off and took off my glasses. At least that made the machine a bit blurry. I stood in front of the machine and the nurse moved me in to position. 

‘A bit to the left.’ ‘A bit to the right’. ‘Now shuffle slightly more to the right’. ‘Now lean forward just an inch’. ‘Now a bit to the left again’. Mammogramming is like a fine art. I don't know how nurses have the patience. I was getting impatient with myself and it was my fault. 

‘Now stay completely still’ directs the nurse.

Then the boob squishing starts. I can only describe it as someone putting your boob in a vice and then slowly closing it. This makes it sound awful but it honestly sounds worse than it is and it doesn't hurt that much. It's all done very slowly and the nurse asks if you can take anymore each time she tightens it. 

Once the nurse is happy with the position and you are happy with the level of boob squishing the nurse goes back to her screen and starts taking the images.

‘Now don’t breath’ exclaims the nurse.

What? I don't know if anyone has ever told you not to breath but it's not the same as someone asking you to hold your breath. Holding your breath means you take a large intake of breath..and then we'll you know…you hold your breath. Saying don't breath doesn't sound like you should take an intake of breath first. Plus it had taken ages to get me in to position and it was to the millimetre so taking a deep breath would surely put me out of  position. As would talking. So asking if I was allowed to take a deep breath first was out of the question too. 

‘Nearly there’ says the nurse whilst I'm still not breathing – and without the aforementioned pre  gasp of air making me look as purple as Barney the dinosaur.

‘All done. Wasn't too bad was it?’ the nurse asks. 

It  wasn't too bad. It was definitely a little more painful then my first mammogram but I think the nurse on the first mammogram was probably being extra gentle since I only found out I had cancer five minutes earlier. My left boob also hurt a little more this time because of my lumpectomy but the pain was very manageable. I certainly won't be as worried about it next time. So, if you're old enough, go  and get yourselves screened ladies! It's really not that bad!

The nurse tells me I'll get the results within two weeks by post. She says I'll have a yearly mammogram from now on until I'm old enough for the national screening programme. 

‘You’ll join the national screening programme in…’. Checks computer screen. ‘2038’ she states proudly. 

Hmm I guess I'll have to write that in my diary. 

As this is my first scan after my treatment I was quite nervous about the results. Waiting for scan results after having cancer is always a nerve racking time whatever your prognosis. In the ‘cancer world’ its known as ‘scanxiety’ – and for the two weeks after my mammogram I was filled with it.

Thankfully I was in for some good news…

‘No radiological features to cause any concern’.

I'm taking that as medical talk for ‘Have a glass of Pinot mate you're doing all right’. 


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