It’s Friday 13th May, even though I have a cyst in my breast I am not supersitious, I am having it checked out. I’m in a better place than I’ve been in a long time, I feel glossy and sleek.
Four hours on the hospital parking meter seems reasonable to cover all eventualities, any time left and I can give my ticket to someone on my way out of the car park.
The bonus is I am going to look at a new healing environment, hopefully state of the art, perhaps not the best reason to be going but overall this is an exciting visit for me. Full of high expectations I enter the new building. It’s mid morning and already the waiting room is a marass of glum faces. Groups of chairs round the usual tables of out of date magazines. A dull power point with instructional details of the hospitals performance, plays on the TV.
At last my name is called and I go through the double doors. The consultant chats to me, constructing a picture of my medical history and my life. He looks at my carrier bag and says his daughter goes shopping there as well, in the next few weeks our sons are doing the same exams. I tell him I have been helping a very close friend through his chemo following bowel cancer.
He sits forward, squarely on his chair, behind him the student shrinks. He starts up, can you describe how the lump felt when you first noticed it. Well it’s not really a lump, it shifts and changes shape, it’s a pulled, ill defined lump like you get when you tear mozarella, sometimes it feels like it’s not there. As I go through my story he turns to the student and barks, listen to her carefully, she’s giving a classic cyst description, she’s using really good language.
Then he examines me. He sighs as he says he thinks there might be something, he wants me to go and have a mammogram. I am in a cohort of women dressed in less than adequate gowns, the cohort is shuffled back and forth along the corridor between waiting and great uncomfortable squashing machines, with each visit and an increase in magnification, another of the cohort drops out. I peep into dark rooms, people peering at screens in their glowing halflight, they are looking, measuring, comparing, analysing the detail of my breasts, to decide whether it’s a cyst or not. Labouring away, hidden like bees in a hive, the back of house team are more intimate with my secret parts than I will ever be. Then, when I am one of the last remaining of the cohort, I go for ultra sound, the radiographer and I laugh about how years ago the ultra sound pictures were so crude. I want to look at my pictures, to see how much my breasts have changed since I last saw them on a screen ten years ago, she goes silent, concentrating, tapping on the keyboard, watching the screen.
I return to the consultant, now the room is crowded, it’s a large cast, all have a frequently rehersed role, I sense what my role will be, I am introduced. He’s come out from behind the desk, he sits, I see his striped socks, he takes my hand, he tells me from the tests so far I certainly have cancer, but they wont know all the details ‘til after the biopsy. I want to understand what I am being told, stay calm, in my head I make a request, it’s not outrageous, please can I be around to see my not yet existing grandchildren. To get me through, I am making crab claws with my fingers, as I well up, I swallow hard. Guilt washes over, how can I let so many people down like this? I don’t want to get in the way of my sons exams, how can I be there to help my friend with his cancer treatment?
He goes on, the thing about this caner is it’s difficult to get with a biopsy, if I don’t get it today I will have to do the biopsy with ultra sound next week. I say, go on ’til you know you have it. The net draws closer, I am stretched on the couch, I meditate, down, down, down, I dive, I lie at the bottom of the ocean, I look up, they stare down, they are remote, I am ready. He starts, one two three, he goes on to eight, it’s like being punched, each time I brace myself, then gather myself together ready for the next one.
The breast nurse flicks the sign on the quiet room to engaged. I am sitting in the quiet room with the breast nurse, before I can leave I have to cry, then I say, my meter has run out, oh dear the traffic wardens can be cruel, you had better be on your way.
I go home thinking, it might be a storm in a tea cup, wait ’til the biopsy results come to know what the next step is, I promise myself I will take each moment as it comes.