Updated: 6 days ago
So I realise I’m ahead of you in the story and I’ve brought you into the plot a good way into the narrative. So let me do that wobbly screen thing that they used to do in 80s TV shows to let you know we’re going back in time. Kind of like a prequel.
It’s 3rd November 2020 and I thought I felt something a bit weird on my right hand side, near my armpit. Like a pea-sized lump. My heart was instantly in my mouth and my stomach somewhere round my ankles, The sense of dread was overwhelming, like that moment where you realise you’ve made a massive cock-up in your budget calculations and you’ve told the Headteacher you’re £200k better off than you thought you were. Or if you don’t work in finance, and if you’ve still got a social life, waking up realising you’ve drunk-texted your boss and told them you fancy them. The kind of gut wrenching terror that you never forget.
Anyway, back to the story. My husband checked it out and admitted that he could definitely feel the pea-sized thing. The irony was that we’d been watching the Gogglebox Stand Up to Cancer Special the night before, and in one of the sad bits there had been an ad saying “one in two people will get cancer in their lifetime”. We’d both looked at each other and said “hope it’s you” at the exact same time. We have that macabre sense of humour, but here we were, with that unspoken joke between us.
So I ended up with an emergency GP appointment the next day. She was lovely and very reassuring, telling me that the tiny size and round shape meant it was almost certainly a cyst. She said she wasn’t worried, but would refer me for a mammogram anyway, just to be sure, as I hadn't had one for a while. She was being kind. I hadn’t been for a mammogram ever, because I had ignored the letter. Preach away, but yeah, that was me. I'm making up for it now though.
Belt and Braces
I leave the GP surgery hugely relieved, but still a little bit scared. Two weeks later, 16th November to be exact (I’m keeping a diary now because it all got a bit blurry around early February) I pitch up for an appointment with a consultant at the hospital. 5 minutes in and he tells me he can’t even find the pea sized thing, says it was almost certainly a cyst which has dispersed naturally, which is great, and packs me off for radiology for a belt and braces mammogram. Poor choice of words. It’s definitely a no-braces procedure, standing half naked in front of a complete stranger and a giant mechanical device, but I have no intention of sharing the ignominy of mammograms any more than I already have. No one needs that mental image, I’m a 54 year old ex-convent girl after all. Enough. On with the story.
By now I’m pretty damn cocky and as I stride out of the hospital I rip off my surgical mask, dump it in the bin with the flourish of a year 11 student ripping their tie off on the last day of the summer term. I’m fine, my GP says so, and so does a flipping consultant top honcho cancer bod man (no idea what his job title is, sorry). He said there’s nothing to worry about. The cyst has gone. I’m outta here.
Nine days later (25th November, you're impressed with my record keeping, I can tell) I get a letter from the consultant. There was, indeed, nothing in the right hand side area where the pea lump had been. But there was a 'cluster of calcification' in the upper outer quadrant of the left breast which needed further investigation. I was to be referred to a Brighton clinic for a stereotactic core biopsy.
Shit. Brighton. FFS. Trying to find a car parking space anywhere near Brighton was going to be an absolute fucker. And a few seconds later along came my second thought. What the heck was calcification? Calcium is pretty harmless though, surely? Nothing to worry about, calcium's a great thing. I'm a child of the late 60s and I know for an absolute fact that calcium builds strong bones. I am the audience base for the 1970s Milk Marketing Board campaigns to make me drink the white stuff and it was on the telly so it must be true. In fact, I remember having to drink warm bottles of the stuff in junior school every freaking day, and face being glared at by Sister Mary Angela if you even thought about leaving even a dribble of pre-cheesy gold top in the mini glass bottles of hell. Of course they were hell until Maggie Thatcher stole them all, at which point they became the very elixir of life itself, but that's another blog.
So yeah, calcium, pretty lightweight stuff, right? But I google it anyway, just in case the definition of calcium changed when chalk became illegal. I admit my chemistry knowledge is limited, and chalk may not have been made illegal. All I know is there used to be loads of it, and now it's gone. Go figure.
Right, so according to Macmillan:
Breast calcifications are small spots of calcium in the breast. They are common and usually harmless. Occasionally, they may be a sign of early breast cancer.
Common and usually harmless. This is what I wanted to hear. Harmless is great, better than great. Common is also great, because I am from Essex, and I have an O level in common. Occasionally isn't even a worry, because I definitely don't have anything to worry about because the pea lump has gone, and this is the complete other side of my body. I probably just have too much calcium in my diet. I do drink a lot of tea. Stereotactic sounds like something Tony Blackburn might say on a Saturday morning radio show, so that's not scary. Core Biopsy sounds a bit shit, but google tells me it's simple, quick, and nothing more than a sharp scratch, so nothing to worry about at all.
Editor's note: Did I tell you the prequel was going to be in 2 parts? Sorry, I should have. But it's getting late and I had my Covid jab today so I'm going to sign off and leave you wanting more, in true Essex karaoke queen fashion.
Stay tuned for the next episode.