In the late afternoon on Wednesday 20th April 2021, I got a phone call from BreastScreen Australia.
I had been for my first ever mammogram on April 06th at the age of 50 years (and 9 months), and they told me I should have the results within two weeks.
I was kind of expecting that would be a letter – you know the type: “Thank you Ms Morgana, for your attendance to our clinic. Your tests are clear, see you in two years”.
This was not that.
This was “Your mammogram was inconclusive and we would like you to come in as soon as possible for additional testing – we can get you in tomorrow morning”.
The nature of my employment for the last 13 years has honed my ability for active listening in crisis situations.
I could hear in the voice of the woman speaking to me that this was less than ideal.
I agreed to further testing for the following day and immediately called my manager and told them what was going on and that I would be taking the Thursday off – the nurse on the phone had told me that they would do another mammogram, and then possibly move onto an ultrasound, a physical exam, and if necessary, biopsies. I decided that there was no way that I was going to be coming back to work on that same day if I ened up having biopsies!
I cannot express enough the importance of the immediate and unwavering support that I got from my manager.
If you are a manager, or a team leader, please, take a moment and do some work as a leader around how you might respond to a team member presenting with this kind of situation.
It makes such a difference.
In my case, my manager was literally the first person I told.
Of course, we had no idea of how big this experience was going to be, but (!) As the actual first person I had to articulate this escalation to, the kindness and generosity of their immediate response cannot be understated – “of course, no problems – please, let me know if I can help in any way, and if you aren’t feeling up to it on Friday especially if you end up having biopsies, please, just let me know and I will book you off”.
This response empowered me to simply focus on what I had to do, and it also created space for me to process.
My emotional regulation is typically quite good, but I can assure you, I was feeling dread, fear, apprehension, anxiety, and concern.
I’d had ultrasounds in the past, but I’d never had to have a biopsy.
So clearly, there was some trepidation about the actual process, which was the immediate thing.
And naturally, there was an array of emotions about the outcome.
I have been working in the emergency services sector for 13 years, in additional to that, I had a grief and trauma focus when I was doing my psychology degree. I’m also a peer support member and trainer at my place of work – I mention all of this because these are the skill sets I decided to lean into.
Transparency and communication with the mindset of open curiosity, I guess, for lack of a better way to frame it.
I told my housemate and best friend that night.
I called my sibling and told them: they are a nurse, with a focus on surgical, so we discussed what I could expect with the procedure the next day.
My sibling was able to encourage me to express my frameworks and boundaries – for me, in this situation that basically means saying to anyone that is touching me: “I am neurodivergent with a history of trauma and abuse, please talk me through what you are doing as you are doing it and what to expect before you touch me”.
I find it difficult, because there’s a big part of me that wants to pretend that I am fine, to mask the neurodivergence, make small talk, ignore pain and / or discomfort, and the neurodivergent part of me just wants to shut down.
However – I am finding that transparent communication makes me feel more in control and less overwhelmed – it is a work in progress, and it is literally only something I have been working on for the last 5 years to overcome my dental phobia.
I will put some links to articles at the bottom of this blog. They’re only a small snapshot of the reading I have done, but it provides some peer reviewed background for those interested.
Content Warning: They will largely be scholarly articles and will be addressing trauma and abuse and the impact of that upon patients at a later stage in their life.
Prior to that, I couldn’t really understand why other people could sail through medical appointments and examinations where it was a big deal for me – so doing some reading around the impact of a history of trauma and abuse when interacting with physical examinations, and understanding that my neurodivergence was a big part of this really helped.
So essentially I told three people; my manager, my best friend and housemate, and my closest family member – closest in terms of emotion, not geography, and with the additional bonus of being a medical professional.
And.. I just sat with my emotions and gave myself permission to feel them, without denying them, despite the fact that they were uncomfortable emotions.
I also tended my Shrines and meditated and prayed.
The devotional aspect of my practice is hugely important to me.
Just a reminder – I am a polytheistic, and you can find more information about my practice in my other blog entries.
My prayers that night were along the lines of acknowledging the various Mysterious Ones I honour, and asking that I might be able to face the coming day with grace, generosity of spirit, and a clear heart, mind, and eyes.
For me, it didn’t seem appropriate to ask for what might have been a miracle (in this case, maybe something along the lines of “please don’t let me have cancer”) – it’s hard to explain, and all I can say is that I sat with my feelings and emotions and thoughts and concerns and that was not what I felt I *needed* as such.
I just wanted to walk through the day with grace. I felt like there was no point in denying the fact that there was obviously an issue and I didn’t have enough data to know what that issue was, but I was taking the next steps to investigate said issue.
So that is what I prayed for and meditated upon and spent time contemplating.
Now, here’s where I think it can get tricky.
I made the decision to have the mammogram in the first place and I made the following decision to continue with the investigation.
My body, my choice. My personal sovereignty and agency.
Equally, that might not be the appropriate decision for someone else.
Other women may make the decision not to have mammograms, or, upon receiving an inconclusive result, they may make the decision not to pursue further investigations.
I would like to think that all decisions are made in full knowledge of the facts available at the time, but I think it’s important to acknowledge and respect people’s agency and personal sovereignty around their own health and well-being – even if we disagree.
I confess, I did not sleep well that night.
Previous Blog Posts:
Getting through Medical Examinations: A Resource for Women Survivors of Abuse and Their Medical Providers (available online as a PDF, no direct link).