When I was younger, I used to have something called Trichotillomania. Basically, when I got anxious, nervous or worried, I used to twist my hair round and round my finger and pull it out at my crown. It led to me having a big bald spot in the centre of my head which I covered by brushing my hair over it. I eventually grew out of it, but I've noticed that now when I'm in the same anxious state, I continually touch my bad boob. Not in a sexual way but in a squeeze it, feel it, search it, sort of way.
About a fortnight ago, I found out that the company I work for is merging (in truth it's an acquisition) with another company, and as a result my job is at risk. SBG (Self-Boob-Groping) goes into overdrive. And then I find it. A lump. No no no. Oh please no. Shit. My already stressed out brain goes into meltdown. How in the heck am I supposed to process this much stress. We have just moved house (said to be one of the biggest life stressors), I am potentially losing my job (another stressor) and now another lump. The trouble was, as soon as I found the lump/ridge/oddness, I couldn't leave it alone. Which made it swell. Which made me feel even worse. Which made me touch it more. Complete vicious cycle.
As it was my time of the month, I decided to leave it a week before calling the doctor. During your period, hormonal changes and fluctuations can cause your breasts to feel lumpy. I put a massive plaster over it to stop me touching it, and hoped against hope that it would disappear.
I desperately tried to put it out of my mind over that week but I couldn't. I didn't tell many people about it (I had to tell HR at work because of the impending job loss), because admitting I'd found something and saying it out loud somehow made it more real.
A week passed and I peeled the plaster off. It was still there. Felt myself about to break, but managed to centre myself and use some of the calming breathing techniques I learnt on my Cancer Survivorship Course last year. I waited until 8am when the doctor's surgery opened and made the call. I had to call 24 times as it was permanently engaged, when I finally got through I was given an appointment for that afternoon.
I went to the doctor's and was sat in the waiting room for about 15 minutes. I could feel my heart rate rising with every minute sat there. I was eventually called through, and as it was a new doctor's surgery (as we have moved house, I also moved doctor) they didn't know any of my medical history. The male doctor took notes and then called in a chaperone. He gave my boobs and armpit a good feel and confirmed he could feel what I was talking about. He said to me that he didn't think it was anything significant, but as it was definitely *something* and given my medical history, he had to refer me.
When a doctor suspects a Breast Cancer, you have to be referred under the 2 week emergency referral period. I was called the very next day (Wednesday) and was given an appointment at the breast clinic for the following Thursday.
The next day a letter arrived in the post, the NHS stamp in the right hand corner, familiar and sinister, instantly recognisable. I open the letter and it tells me everything I already know. I have an appointment at Mr Ball's One Stop Clinic at 10h20 on Thursday next week and it details all the procedures I *could* go through. I read the letter. A One Stop Clinic does mean you get the results on the same day which is something at least. I digest all the info. But I know all of this already. Which is what makes it worse. Last time I thought it wasn't anything. What if it is again....
What followed was the longest week ever. It made me remember the wait I had before. Not only did I have this to contend with, but in the middle of the wait, we also found out more about the new work structure and my role as it is now doesn't exist. How much stress is one person supposed to cope with :(
I don't know how I got through it, but Thursday eventually arrived. I spent the morning feeling sick, being sick and crying, as I was very much aware that within a few hours, my world could be right back in 2012 again, but this time with the threat of not having a job. Rob drove me to Crawley hospital and we were told that the oncologist was running half an hour late. It's always the way but it does absolutely nothing for your nerves.
Eventually I was seen by Mr Ball. He ran through my medical history and then felt my boobs and my armpits. I just about held it together, lip quivering and a few tears falling. He then said to me that he thought it was scar tissue but to be 100% he wanted me to have a Mammogram and Ultrasound. He said that if the radiologists thought it was serious, then I would need an MRI as well which would involve another weeks' wait for results. I knew this was coming, but I feel horribly sick. There's a term called Scanxiety, it's the fear cancer patients face when they know scans are approaching and would 100% say I suffer from it.
I walk round to the x-ray department and am told where the mammogram waiting room is. I know already. I've done this before. Rob and I walk there in a sort of brain fog. And we sit for another 40 minutes. The wait is excruciating. I'm the youngest person there by a country mile (what is a country mile anyway?!) I'm called into the mammogram side room to confirm my details and I burst into tears. The lady doing the mammogram is lovely. She tells me she remembers me from before. I suppose you would do seeing that I was 28 at diagnosis and everyone else in the waiting room looks over 50. She also tells me that as my annual mammogram was due in December/January, this one would be replacing it. I sit in the side room for 5 minutes and then I'm called through to the room. It's hideously familiar. My boobs are scanned and squashed, it hurts but I know it's what's needed. I try and read her face but she gives nothing away. She must have her game face completely perfected as she does this every day.
I then have to wait another 30 minutes for the ultrasound. I am called to the room. I take off my top and lie on the bed. Tears fall again. The doctor doing the ultrasound walks in and tells me that the mammogram looked clear. A little bubble of hope rises in my chest. He then spends a good 10 minutes performing an ultrasound on the area I have found the lump in. He is very kind in the way he talks to me. He has a soothing voice which calms me a little. He then turns to me and smiles. "It's scar tissue Joanna" he says. I fully burst into tears. Overwhelm. Happiness. Relief.
They want me to keep an eye on it anyway, just in case. I have my follow-up appointment in 3 months that I had booked in anyway (it was due to follow my January mammogram), and they will no doubt check in on it again then. But for now, I have one less life stressor to worry about.