On Thursday, 22nd April 2021, I attended the Eastern Health Breast and Cancer Centre at Maroondah Hospital.
That morning, I spent some time taking some photos of my breasts. I had a premonition of sorts that my relationship with them was about to become more complex.
Breast cancer impacts your relationship with your body on so many levels.
I’m very grateful that I took those photos. Some of them are living on the fridges of Beloveds across the country, lol!
A year later, I will confess that this day is a bit of a blur in some ways. Basically, there was an ultrasound, a physical examination, and a biopsy on the right breast.
Reiterating the medical statement
My medical statement* seemed to work well. I only really had to say it twice because the various teams disseminated the information well.
*Medical statement, as mentioned in previous blog posts: “I am neurodivergent, and I have a history of trauma and abuse. I need you to explain the process as you go. Talk me through what you are doing, as you are doing it, especially when it involves you touching me.”
On the day
The mammogram that I was expecting was skipped from my memory, and they went straight to the ultrasound on my right breast. The ultrasound was, as they always are, gooey – but at least the “goo” (technical term, lol – the gel) was warmed.
Thirteen years in the emergency services sector and I can hear the subtext in conversations pretty well for the most part.
I could tell from the discussions they had around the ultrasound that they had found something that they considered significant. And by significant, I mean breast cancer.
During the physical examination, the doctor reassured me that I should not give myself a hard time about not finding the lump in my right breast as it was right at the back of my breast, against my rib cage. It was also not shaped like the typical “pea” shape that we are coached to be mindful of when checking for breast cancer.
If you don’t know how to self-check for breast cancer, get your GP to coach you. Alternatively, there are lots of guides online.
From that point on, if I had any doubt from the discussions around the ultrasound, those doubts were minimal. Although of course, they had to do due diligence and continue to biopsy and wait for the actual results. However it was pretty clear to me that they were of the opinion that they were looking at a cancerous tumour.
The biopsy was painless. They had diligently numbed the area and I could also follow along on the screen. There are different types of biopsy – I had core biopsies done, I think they took three separate samples but there was only one access point.
Sometimes I like to watch what is happening with medical procedures. Sometimes it is easier to allow myself to disassociate somewhat. I had moments of both across the day. I’m usually interested in watching the procedures that I can see on a screen. When it comes to physical examinations, I do tend to disassociate somewhat and “go to my happy place”.
End of day
My initial appointment was at 10 am, and I honestly can’t remember when I got out – it was somewhere between 3 pm and 4 pm. I left with an appointment for the 28th of April, a cold pack on my breast at the point of entry for the biopsy, and a lot on my mind.
I had consciously decided to drive myself that day despite my housemate and best friend making the offer. That was the appropriate decision for me on that day and in hindsight, I wouldn’t change it.
I’m going to write a separate post to kind of cover the thoughts, emotions, and considerations of the week that followed.
At this stage, I only had the confidence in my ability to read people, especially in a medical setting, to go on. I only had three people that I had confided in about the follow-up testing: my manager, my housemate / best friend, and my interstate sibling.
I gave my housemate / best friend and my sibling the cliff notes that night.
The following day
At the time I was working from home in an instructional design role. I was able to have a brief touch base with my manager via zoom in the morning before our regular team meeting.
Having that day of normal routine kept me busy enough to create some space between the experiences of the day and the time I needed to process. It allowed me to kind of integrate for 24 hours on a subconscious level before I started contemplating the situation more deeply.
I also touched base via telehealth with my GP and gave them the heads up that a report might be incoming. I made a follow-up appointment with them for the 29th April – the day after my follow-up appointment with the Breast and Cancer Centre.
There was a lot to think about.