3. The ‘C’ word

On our return from the paddle boarding trip there was a letter for me from the Primrose Clinic which invited me to come to the clinic on 29th August for a follow up mammogram.  I wasn’t worried, if anything I was blasé… 57 women had their breasts imaged on the day I went and I genuinely thought it would be a smudge or a problem with the imaging.  The 29th August arrived and Nick and I made our way to Derriford Hospital and found the Primrose CIinic on level 7, very quickly I was invited to have another mammogram.  This time there were 2 images of my left breast pinned to the wall… the most recent one had a red circle on it.  Being nosey, instead of walking to the screening machine I looked at the images and asked the young radiographer if it was a) me and b) what was that in my left boob.  She said yes it was me and they weren’t sure so more images were required to find out.  Suddenly my confidence started to evaporate.

Tip:  Leave plenty of time to get to Derriford Hospital as the road works are a nightmare and it takes time to find a parking space.  Take a husband, partner, friend with you.

I returned to the waiting area to tell my husband that there was an image with a red circle highlighting a potential problem and within minutes, or so it seemed, I was being guided into the ultrasound room.  Black humour is my default position when facing something difficult and as I walked into the ultrasound room I was chuckling and saying “I hope it isn’t twins, as I’m a bit old for that malarkey”.  It was in fact triplets but not babies.  The consultant radiologist was charming and chatted all the while as I lay on the bed with one arm behind my head to give good access to my armpit as well as the breast.  We talked about schools, A levels, why medicine, why armpit as well as the breast.  We talked about schools, A levels, why medicine, why radiography…anything except breasts. Nick sat at the end of the bed and could see everything she could and he saw three dark masses which piqued the consultant’s interest.  She told me that a “punch biopsy” would be required to see what the masses were.  I asked if they were cysts and full of Sauvignon Blanc (a desperate attempt at my humour) to which she said no… my confidence was on it’s way out of the building having evaporated, cooled, condensed, formed a cloud and blown away.  A “sharp scratch” numbed up the two sites on my left breast and a long needle was inserted and there then followed a noise like a staple gun.. no pain, just a bit of pressure to remove some suspect cells in a punch biopsy.  Dressings were applied and it was then I asked “given this is your daily job, what is your opinion about what this is?” “A cancer” was the response “can it be zapped “ I asked, “no it will require a mastectomy”.

2. Always attend a mammogram appointment

“It is a cancer and will require a mastectomy” were words I never anticipated hearing and, despite being in the Primrose Breast Care clinic at Derriford Hospital was not the outcome I had imagined.  These words started my expedition into the world of becoming a breast cancer patient.

I am a wife, mum,  geography teacher and part of the leadership team at an inner city comprehensive in the “Ocean City” of Plymouth in Devon.  At the end of the summer holidays, after a glorious ten days in Sardinia, on a beautiful, hot morning my husband, Nick, and I went to Mount Batten water sports centre  to have a paddle boarding lesson.  Once we mastered how to get the wet suits on we joined a mixed bunch of other novices, carried the paddleboards down to River Plym and had two hours of learning a new skill, falling in the water and having fun with a bunch of strangers.  Little did we know that on our return home there would be a letter which would have a life changing impact.

Earlier in August 2017 I had been for a routine mammogram.  My GP surgery had signed up to an early screening programme so I had had a mammogram at the ages of 47, 50 and almost aged 53.  The morning of the mammogram, which was carried out in the Guildhall in Plymouth City Centre, was sunny, it was the school summer holidays and I had plenty of time.  The radiographers were busy and the young woman who pushed and squeezed my breasts into the machine told me there were 57 women who would have a similar experience that day. It was routine, matter of fact, brusque even… top off, breasts in, deep breath, arm up, arm around, other side.   I met a friend for coffee afterwards, I wasn’t worried, there were no lumps, bumps, lemon skin or puckering  on my breasts in fact I fancied they were in pretty good nick.

Tip:  Always attend your mammogram appointment – never put it off always go.