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


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you. I was one of the lucky ones. But it does worry me how many women must have these invasive and expensive procedures unnecessarily.


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