What to expect when you are tested for breast cancer

Fiona Brownlee
Fiona Brownlee
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I go to the doctor once in a blue moon, bar pregnancy I don’t think I have been to the doctor for seven years and that was after running into a French door someone had closed without my realising it and practically breaking my nose. I don’t get ill.

Coincidentally I ended up seeing the same doctor. I remembered him because he had just broken his nose playing rugby and looked worse than me. Apart from that he was also very handsome.

I made an emergency appointment after fainting. I thought my iron levels must be low, the handsome doctor thought it was my thyroid. He did blood tests and when I went back for the results I thought I’d get a 2 for 1 deal and mention a couple of tiny lumps I had noticed in my breast.

I left the surgery with a smile on my face. The handsome doctor had had a prod, reassured me that nothing was wrong but referred me to an oncologist ‘just in case’.

Two weeks later I skipped into the Edinburgh breast cancer clinic. As clinics go it’s lovely. Light and airy with an outside garden area, all funded by MoonWalk money. Far nicer than any private clinics I’ve visited in the past.

It was a bit like waiting for a pregnancy ultrasound, surrounded by women the same age all a bit anxious except these women were closer to 40 than 30 and had far more reason to be nervous.

The consultant had a prod. Announced he thought it was nothing but sent me for a mammogram ‘just in case’. It’s a bit like pressing your breasts in a toasted sandwich maker while contorting yourself into the sort of positions you normally only adopt when you’re having a spray tan.

They didn’t see anything untoward but sent me for a scan ‘just in case’. It was exactly like the scan you have when you have a baby except you don’t turn your head anxiously to the screen looking for the heartbeat. You turn your head to the radiologist hoping to God their expression doesn’t change.

The radiologist didn’t see anything untoward but the consultant felt I should have a biopsy ‘just in case’ and I was sent back to radiology. They used the scanner to locate the lump then inserted a needle which gave a little nip as it took a sample, not dissimilar to the click when you have a smear test.

Even then the radiologist thought it was just fibroids and I wasn’t at all worried going back for the results however the presence of a new woman accompanying the consultant with a big badge saying BREAST CANCER NURSE was a clue that all was not as it should be. She was wonderful and sent me away clutching a Macmillan booklet explaining exactly what my condition was and what treatment would follow.

They were still relentlessly positive. It could all be managed by a small lumpectomy but I should go for an MRI ‘just in case’. Ten days later I was in a rather more grim part of the hospital dressed in a hospital gown with the ties at the front like an ill-fitting DVF wrap dress. As the nurse inserted a needle into my arm and drew it into some saline solution my blood mingled with it reminiscent of someone injecting heroin on The Wire and I was led to the scanner. Everyone had told me awful things about having an MRI but I found it strangely relaxing.

Breasts dangling in two baskets I lay on my front, shut my eyes and if the nurse hadn’t kept talking in my ear to check I was OK I swear I would have gone to sleep, the loud banging reminiscent of techno music in the background.

Unfortunately for me the MRI has thrown up some more worrying results and I find the outcome of further biopsies next week but for a lot of people the journey will end there.

Forewarned is forearmed. Small breasts are a bugger to get on the mammogram. Be prepared to adopt positions only previously adopted in a tanning booth and the rest is just a bit like gynae treatments except higher up. And tell the nurse not to talk to you while you’re in the MRI just let yourself drift off as if you’re crashed out at a music festival. It’s the first time I’ve had the chance to lie down with my eyes shut during the day in years. Every cloud…

Fiona Brownlee is director of Brownlee Donald Associates Ltd

The MoonWalk Scotland 2016 takes place in Edinburgh on 11 June www.walkthewalk.org