Friday, 25 November 2011

Mammogram's Are Made Of This...

This week I had my breasts examined and not the usual examination that sometimes occurs when having a conversation with a man. No.

I was examined under the NHS breast screening programme which, in my health region, has expanded the usual screening age range (generally 50 to 70) to start at 47-years-old right up 73. But, as it's a new initiative, it's an randomly selected "invite only" process until the system fully phases in.

And I was one of the chosen ones, OBVIOUSLY at the youngest end of the spectrum. Too young in fact because, ahem, I'm not actually 47 until Saturday.

I AM breast cancer aware, I've pink ribboned myself and know how to check for suspicious lumps and all that. I've known women who have had breast cancer and lived because it was detected early enough to combat.

But, 20 years ago, I also knew a woman who had breast cancer and died. She was young (younger than I am now). Beautiful and talented, she had young children and a husband who loved her. She had everything to live for but she died.

When I got my appointment through the post, she was the first person I thought of, so I did keep the appointment even if I had to force myself. I mean who wants to have their breasts messed with for purely exploratory purposes.

We endure cervical smears without demanding flowers, chocolates or a slap-up meal from the participating nurse, but a breast examination seems to ruffle a British ladies sense of propriety far more. This became increasingly clear in the clinic lift when the woman I was sharing it with pushed the button to Retinal Problems on floor 4 then sheepishly followed me out of the lift to the Breast Examination room. If she'd have asked, I would have held her hand.

We were sat in the waiting room, um, waiting silently, sans bra but demurely covered, when the previous patient emerged from the Breast Examination Room and broke the first rule of hospital waiting rooms everywhere when she spoke.

"It's alright," she said, "Nothing to worry about. Doesn't hurt."

And it didn't. It's a bit uncomfortable and your breasts have to be scooped up and manipulated around and they're squeezed, a bit, but I've probably had them squeezed harder during ill-advised nightclub encounters. I also learnt that I've got"deceptively large breasts" though I still haven't decided if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I went back into the waiting room and said, to the next in line: "It's alright, it doesn't hurt. Nothing to worry about."

And I suspect that after her appointment she said much the same to the next.

That was that, a brief breast squeeze of a Thursday morning that could save my life (though I AM rather hoping that I will have passed this particular exam with a gold star).

This is the informative bit: Women -aged between 47 and 50 - who haven't been invited can request to be screened if they live in an area that has started to phase in the screening of that age group anyway. So, come on then .... what are you waiting for ?

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