Thursday, 31 October 2013

Breast Cancer: Not Always

I found lumps. Little hard pellets. I ignored them. I’m not going to get it. Not all of us have to. Surely? Months later I gave in. Fessed up to my GP.  Got referred for a scan. Waited.  

Then there they were dark circles on the radiographer's screen. 

I like the breast doctor. She’s petite. She dresses in designer threads and killer heels. She has; cool breast-side manner.  

She said she’d be surprised if they were SINISTER. There were no telltale shadows behind them. But she’d like to do four FNA -Fine needle aspirations. 

I rebooked. 

Meanwhile, I thought up great opening lines. Like, “I might have cancer on Tuesday”.

I kept it to myself. No point in sharing the worry. 

It was Breast Cancer awareness month. The statistics for New Zealand aren’t good. One in seven women diagnosed daily. 650+ women a year die. That’s almost two every day.

Nowadays, if you haven’t had a bit of BC in your B-cups, you’re the odd one out. Still, I wasn’t getting it. I’ve watched braver women than me go through it. It’s no fun.

Temporary GP nurses kept calling. They read out my file as though it had the procedural answers. I rang Radiology direct. Somehow my FNA had escalated, now they were talking - Core Biopsy.

‘You’ll need to bring someone with you.  We don’t like you to be alone. It affects everyone differently. I’ll send you a brochure.’ 

Just like a pacific island holiday...

On the eve of my appointment, the receptionist rang. She sounded flustered. ‘The specialist has to go to a funeral. Sorry. We hate doing this. I said to (specialist) you can ring Jane yourself…’

We rescheduled. Only three weeks to wait. Life went on. I wore my pink ribbon with a new awareness. I wanted to volunteer on appeal day but I was away. The local paper ran a story about a 27 year old who’d just opted for a double mastectomy. I past Oncology signs. A close friend was going for her four year check-up (five years symptom free and she’ll be clear). I hadn’t quite joined the club, but I was on the shortlist.

Every time, I felt tired or a twinge, it was confirmation of carcinoma in situ.

‘Why are you going to Invercargill today?’ said daughter 14.

‘I’m having a mammogram,’ I said cheerily.

‘Have you got breast cancer?’ she said.

‘No, it’s just routine when you get to my age.’

I meandered through the wide open prairie pastureland of Southland. Fat spring lambs sat like lumps of cotton wool on the greenest  grass. Herds of lactating mammals grazed everywhere. I couldn’t give my B’s a reassuring fondle, I was driving. So I talked to them instead; yo ma bitches, you ain’t gonna give me CANCER.

The night before I’d complained to HB, ‘it’s not fair, men don’t have to drop their scrotums into a sandwich press and have them zapped by radiation?’

‘No, but they get a finger up their date for a prostate check.’

‘And your point is….?’ 

I changed into my regulation blue robe, stuffing my bra and top into my handbag. The sign said: keep valuables with you at all times and if you’ve waited longer than 20 mins please tell reception.

On my bottom half I’d worn, minor-op friendly cotton/lycra pants and sand shoes. Yet I felt overdressed.  I’d put gold eye shadow on. By mistake. On days when I have appointments, I sweep my ancient Mac eye shadow brush over my eyelids, in the hope of tucking my infamous hoods back on themselves. Unbeknown to me my brush was overloaded with gold powder (thanks to my daughters dressing their brother up like a drag queen the night before). 

The breast nurses both had names starting with I. One was young, silent and serious. The other, older and chatty. She spoke to my breasts, as she coerced them between the glass press and panted. I couldn’t look down. 

Afterwards, chatty nurse offered me tea. An attractive woman with short grey hair waited in an adjacent chair. She did not return my attempts to catch her eyes and smile hello. Even when I was offered a Core Biopsy brochure, did she offer a sympathetic sigh. Curious.

More than twenty minutes past. Then I entered the dim radiographer’s room. Needles, and swabs and specimen jars were casually set out on the bench. 

‘It’s easier if I get everything ready before hand,’ said chatty nurse. ‘Did you bring someone with you?’


She tutted.

‘I’ll have rest before I go.’

‘Haven’t seen you in a while,’ joked petite B Doctor, in killer platform courts.

On went the ky and she started probing. Disappearing briefly to check my films. More probing. 

Conclusion: mysterious small hard lumpy bits had dispersed, off and away. Gone.

The B Doctor mentioned hormones and said to come back when I’m 50.

Chatty nurse packed away all the sterilized packaged sharps. She seemed disappointed.

I just felt RELIEF. Blessed to be a lucky one. 

‘Are you going back straight away?’ she asked. ‘You could do something nice, like buy a pretty new bra.’

I could, but I was over breasts. Dem bad bitches could just keep out of my way and stay lump free. 

I went to the museum to check up on Henry, the 150 year old tuatara and his offspring. He’d had a cancerous lump once, alongside a 25 year celibacy stint. Wouldn't believe it now with the amount of young everywhere.

On the way home I tried not to think about the invasive procedures I would have endured, had the B Doc not gone to a funeral.

They say, early detection is your best protection. On my report card, it was more a case of over presumptive diagnosis.

Brilliant blog posts on

Monday, 21 October 2013

Sunday Star Times Short Story Awards - Third Place Non Fiction

*****And the winner is...I placed third in the Sunday Star Times Short Story Awards - Non Fiction category, 2013. Click here for my story: 

Last Sunday (13.10.13), I found out I’m a finalist in the ‘Sunday Star Times Short Story Awards Non-fiction Category’.

There I was minding my own business in the Christchurch Koru Lounge when I cleared my emails and found this:

Wow! Congrats to Queenstown writer and wit @janeebloom Jane Bloomfield, finalist in non-fiction category at @SundayStarTimes writing award

To say I came over all funny would be the understatement of 2013. I started shouting to my daughter on the other side of the room. She was scuttling back from the buffet minding her own business too. 

Soon we were both having an attack of the vapours, sharing that first heady glow of feeling like the-chosen-won. 

Yet, how did Mr Braunias know? I quickly searched through the Sunday newspaper, lying crumpled beside me on the newly upholstered moss green banquette.  

Sunday Star-Times short story finalists named”

 Never mind the Man Booker, this is our literary shortlist”

If you say so!

“For the first time, the 2013 competition included a non-fiction category, for a story of 800-900 words on the theme of ‘family’. This category, which attracted around 130 entries, was judged by Sunday magazine editor Kim Knight.”

I read on…

And there was my name, Jane Bloomfield.

Along with fellow finalists: Ellen Rowntree & Megan Doyle Corcoran. And highly commended, Edgar Clapshaw and Charle Farnell.

“The winners will be announced in the Sunday Star-Times on November 3.”

Two weeks yesterday. It may as well be three years…

Since Sunday 13 (my new lucky number) October 2013, I’ve experienced elation, deflation, confusion, angst and paranoia. Questions like, is there more than one writer called Jane Bloomfield in New Zealand, have crossed my mind?

When daughter 15, read the first draft of the story I sent in she sobbed. She said afterwards that my piece had inspired her to write. So if that is the secondary outcome of this, I’ll be a proud mum.

“The awards, which have been running for three decades, have helped launch the careers of numerous Kiwi literary stars...” The article says.

I’m not holding my breath (anymore). But meanwhile, I’ll enjoy my finalist status and say good luck to my fellow finalists because, at the end of the day, the best story will win. 

 'A Letter To My Brother'  - published in the Sunday Magazine, 19th January 2014

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

I'll Be Down at the Mall

I was on my back to the motel. Striding along the polished linoleum, head down, jacket zipped ready to brace the wind through the automatic glass doors beyond. I was approached from the left. I stopped. Fool. One dab of free hand cream turned into a sales pitch nightmare. 

‘Come come, give me five minutes,’ she implored.

I got the nail buff. ‘This takes out the ridges that make your nails crack and split.’

My fingernails grow like horses’ hooves; I clip them back once a week. They never crack.

‘See this dry skin?’ (healthy cuticle) ‘One drop of this, oil and poof it’s gone.’

‘What kind of oil is that?’ I’m sold on the merits of argan, rosehip and avocado.

‘All our products come from the Dead Sea in Israel. All natural oils.’ 

Debatable geography.

She stood too close to me. In my space. ‘My mother’s a great cook. But she cooks, then she leaves. Others clean up after her. I think you’re the same?’

‘No I’m a pretty tidy cook,’ I said feebly. The ‘we have things in common ploy’. Mmmm.

She dabbed nail polish remover proving the, shine was-not-an-illusion, over my buffed nails. 

‘Today a special price for you.’ She held the boxed magic nail set in her hand. ‘First pack $99.99, second pack $99.99 but today only, third pack free.’

$100 bucks for a nail buffer. ‘No thanks.’

‘What do you do?’

‘I grow flowers.’ 

‘You live on a farm? I don’t believe it. You don’t look after your nails? But why, you look after everything else. Look at you. Treat yourself. Today only, 1st pack $99.99 and second pack free.’

Golly that's what I call on the spot discounting. I turned to leave.

‘Go on treat yourself.’

‘I have. I just bought a pair of sunglasses.’ Splashed out. Le Specs, could be Karen Walker but only $69.00. ‘Do you sell a lot?’

‘Yes lots of people buy three packs for Christmas presents.’

I idly dug dirt out from under my fingernails. ‘Look, great sales pitch but I’m not buying anything.’ 

Water off a ducks back.

Nec minnit, she had me sat down on a stool. I’m sure one of her thighs was on the outside of mine, wedging me in. What was going on? I don’t suffer fools or salespeople. But this young woman had cornered me with her endless spiel and aside from making a run for it I was stuck. She was a hungry snake charmer. 

Surely there must be a yellow vested security guy hovering somewhere to tell her TIMES UP. Don’t mess with the shoppers. If they’re not buying, they don’t want it.

‘I’m going to Queenstown next week,’ she said, cheerily. ‘What should I do?’

I ran off a list of high risk adrenaline infused activities. 

‘I leave it to the boys to decide.’

Hells bells the whole kit and kibbutz-oodle was in Christchurch flogging the Dead Sea promise. I hope they have work permits, are getting paid properly and their bosses aren't ripping off the IRD. Should I inform John Key or the MP for Riccarton?

Something just didn’t feel right. I’m all for free trade, but shouldn’t we be promoting Rotorua Mud Minerals in our malls. Not imported, non FDA (or equivalent approved) Dead Sea cosmetics. Hardly carbon neutral.

I clutched my handbag to my bosom as her brown eyes bore into mine. She was not at all deterred by my stubbornness and refusal to get out my credit card. She thought she could break me. She got a little patronizing. ‘Now tell me which finger do we apply our eye makeup with?’

I was tempted to flip her the bird but it would have gone up her nostril. Her thick wavy hair fell forwards as she rubbed in liberal amounts of the magic eye gel. I took note in the magnified mirror for the before and after affect. 

Immediately my eyes started to tighten. Must have been all that salt drawing out the puff and bag, like she said. I have to admit it did seem to reduce my crow’s feet. But I wasn’t exactly smiling. 

Then she hit me with the price. ‘$279.00 for 30mls,’ and started raving on how long it would last.

‘It’s 30 mls?’ I said. ‘Three months max.’

‘Have you travelled the world?’ she said. ‘Now I’m putting on the eye cream.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Europe, Africa, Asia.’

‘My country?’

‘Are you going to travel to my country?’

‘No, it’s not a country on my list.’ I said politely. ‘Look, you’ve worked really hard. But I’m not going to buy anything. And I really must go.’

‘I need to get your trust,’ she said. 

God then she came on a bit strong. ‘Look, you’re beautiful. I want to help you.’

‘Yeah aging sucks doesn’t it.’ She was 29.

‘Look at these pictures. I’m not on commission you know? I’m the manager.’ Out came her I-phone and some heavily photo-shopped before and afters. 

‘No,’ I repeated. She stood up. Now was my chance. Still clutching my handbag I rose. Thirty minutes must have past. 

‘I want to give you something.’

‘Please don’t. Look I’ll take some samples but I have to go, my daughter’s worried about me (she’d just texted). Her and me both.

She fiddled round on her computer. That cloudy sky and those automatic doors tantalizingly close. I thought she was going to give me a couple of sachets and release me. 

‘I can give you today 50% off. I’m not here tomorrow.’

‘No thanks,’ I turned to go. My face twitched annoyance and she was starting to look pissed off too. She had one last go. 

‘Just today I’ll sell you the nail pack for $49.99, that’s 50% off.’

I turned and walked away. Hoping I’d never see her again. 

Note: Freaky shopping experience aside, it appears the Dead Sea products are highly controversial and political from what I read in these articles: Dead Sea Sales Scam NZ , Israel Accused Dead Sea Occupied 

I would read these links if you’re contemplating purchasing any Dead Sea Products. I for one will be sticking to made in NZ brands.

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