Hilary Fannin: The knot in my breast and the dangerous business of living

It wasn’t the first time I had had a call-back for further investigation after a mammogram

Photograph: Thinkstock

Photograph: Thinkstock

 

The letter suggested, instructed, that I should come back into the clinic to have a scan and a needle biopsy to determine whether the knotty thing in my breast needed further attention. (And there was I thinking that it might just fold up its fibrous tent all on its own, bugger off and let me get on with this dangerous business of living.)

It wasn’t the first time I had had a call-back for further investigation after a mammogram. It wasn’t the first time I had painted a face over my frozen face, a smile over my frozen smile, not the first time I had pulled up a chair in a waiting room full of anxious women flicking through magazines, rattling blurry newspapers, shooting anxious glances left and right as doors opened and closed and efficient nurses in blue tunics called names from their register.

“Further investigation” is a phrase imbued with wine-dark potential. I sat in the waiting room on that ice-white morning thinking that “No further investigation required” might just make a fitting epitaph.

It feels like such a strange, macabre lottery. A name is called, a woman rises, follows the nurse into the hallway, turns right for imaging and biopsy, left for radiographer and doctor. Some women even go upstairs, I don’t know why, but somehow I doubt it’s for blue gin and canapés.

A name is called, a Mary or an Anne, a Martina or a Lisa. A woman stands; you try not to stare. You do a quick head count: 11 women left in the waiting room, 11 women sitting quietly in the muted gale of morning television. What are the odds, you ask yourself, and then remember that you can barely count past 10 and that odds, like fractions or long division or the structure of a cell, have always eluded you.

A litter of Kardashians

I concentrate on the magazine: Kim Kardashian (at least I think it’s Kim – I know there’s a litter of Kardashians, all their names beginning with K). Anyway, Kim or Kimono or whatever she is called, has, to the chagrin of sections of the media, taken off all her clothes, again and posted nude pictures of herself online, pictures complete with superimposed black strips covering the space where her nipples and “lady garden” should be. (Seriously, the article referred to her pubic area as a “lady garden”, and they weren’t talking about her allotment full of organic turnips and the occasional primrose.)

I looked at the blurry reproduction. Kimono, or Kettle-Bells, or Kakidrosis, or whatever she’s called, does indeed have a truly spectacular bottom. A posterior so stunning, in fact, that she likes people to download it on to their mobile devices and carry it around in their inside pockets. Fair play, Kalyptra, I thought, who am I to argue?

Adrift in the unfamiliar fog of celebrity gossip, I was beginning to forget why I was in the waiting room. Then I flicked over the page and saw Vanessa Feltz, the mouthy, glittery, hardworking blonde. A TV and radio personality who used to be more famous than she is now – remember? Anyway, Feltz was in the celebrity news for apparently positing that when her number’s up, she would like to have her ashes scattered over London’s Brent Cross Shopping Centre, a concept both mind-numbingly depressing and potentially pretty unsavoury, even if intended in jest. I mean, who wants a mouthful of Vanessa’s charred lady garden sprinkled over their Strawberry McMuffin?

Efficient

My name was called. I put down the magazine and went with the nurse to imaging. An elegant radiographer entered the room, tall, efficient, with a porcelain handshake.

“That’s nothing to worry about,” she said a couple of minutes later, withdrawing the syringe. “You’re fine.”

I followed the nurse’s pale-blue back down the corridor. I saw the doctor with the dry hands, who reaffirmed the all-clear. I was free to go. My husband picked me up; we walked through the driving, ice-chilled wind and got into the car. He had bought me a banana. I ate it, looking out of the window at the stately saturated houses. I’m fine. I feel like Methuselah, I feel like I could sleep for a thousand years, but I’m fine.

BreastCheck, the national breast-screening programme, offers a mammogram every two years to women aged 50-64 and it’s free. They say that about one in 12 women in Ireland will get breast cancer in their lifetime. BreastCheck offers early detection and makes cancer easier to treat.

Don’t ignore the letter when it comes. You’re worth it, as they say. And odds on you’re fine, just fine.

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