It was a beautifully sunny morning so I walked to St Bartholomew’s hospital in central London, just behind St Paul’s cathedral . If you haven’t been to this hospital and you find yourself passing through Smithfield then you must go and visit. The central courtyard really is beautiful.
Thanks to good old coronavirus I wasn’t allowed to bring anyone with me to this appointment. I had my temperature checked on the way in and was asked a list of health questions related to coronavirus. I also had to put on a mask and sanitise my hands before getting to the waiting room where I could check-in.
Sitting in the waiting room I looked around and noticed how old all of the other ladies were who were attending the breast clinic. This reassured me further that nothing sinister was going to happen to me. Although I knew that wasn’t strictly true, I tried to convince myself that 28 was too young to have cancer.
The first step of the appointment was to have an ultrasound. This was carried out by a consultant radiologist who introduced himself as Benedict. There were also two very lovely chatty nurses in the room. I lay topless on the bed next to the ultrasound machine as he scanned over the lump. As we looked at the screen I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between this situation and my best friend Rosie recently going for her 20-week pregnancy scan. Only I was not looking at a foetus.
“Oh. That’s not a cyst. We have to take a biopsy now.” Benedict said without hesitation. At this point I lost confidence that this lump would turn out to be nothing serious.
They numbed the area with local anaesthetic then took four samples from the lump. Finally, a titanium marker was placed to aid with locating the lump in future scans. During the procedure I chatted to the nurses and radiologist. I told them that I shouldn’t be so scared of injections as I administer them all the time at work, but it’s much easier being on the giving end rather than receiving end. Benedict told me he was married to an orthodontist and the nurses and I joked about me bleeding over them from the biopsy site. They placed steri-strips and a dressing which I was instructed to keep on for five days and two days respectively.
Immediately after the biopsy I was taken next door for my mammogram. This was the most unpleasant part of the day. Having a mammogram involves having your boob squished between two imaging plates. First the plates are vertical, then they take a second view with the plates horizontal. When the plates were horizontal, the machine squished my boob so much that I felt like I was being lifted up off the floor by the bottom plate. I had to hold onto the machine to make sure all of my bodyweight was not pulling my right boob out of the machine – it felt like it was going to rip off!
Overall I was so impressed with the breast clinic’s efficiency. After working in the NHS for coming up to three years now, I know that this is a rarity.
Once the images had been reported, I went to see the doctor. A consultant breast surgeon. He told me that the scan and the imaging looked ‘suspicious’.
[ suh-spish-uhs ] inclined to suspect, especially inclined to suspect evil
This word would play in my head until I got my results.
I had some limited experience in preparing people for bad news after working in the oral and maxillofacial surgery department for a year. I knew how important it was to manage patients expectations, so when the surgeon started talking about a possible management plan (surgery +/- chemotherapy +/- radiotherapy) I knew that he was preparing me for the worst. But we still had to wait for the biopsy results to come back. I clung on to that one hope for over a week. Maybe it would still come back as something benign.
The breast surgeon said that I would be discussed at their MDT the following Wednesday. If it was bad news then I would have to come for another appointment on Friday, and make sure to bring someone with me to that appointment. This was not sounding good.
During the appointment with the breast surgeon, a chaperone nurse had been present. After I left the room she came out with me and introduced herself as Hannah, the Macmillan nurse. She gave me her number and said that I could call her anytime. This was really not sounding good. I tried to tell myself that I did not need the Macmillan nurse’s number as I did not have cancer, so put the card in the bottom of my backpack and walked home.
I had been sure that I would walk out of the clinic that day with a reassurance that I had been worrying about nothing. I was ready to apologise for wasting their time. This attitude had meant that I hadn’t told many people about the lump, not wanting to worry anyone unnecessarily. Now I had potentially a whole week ahead of me with only the biopsy results to think about. It was time to call mum.
Wednesday came and I got the call from Hannah. I had to attend the breast clinic at Barts again on Friday. And make sure to bring someone with me.