During her monthly boob check, Laura Sparling found a lump. Her story will no doubt have you checking your lovelies with one hand as you read it.
Illustration by Louise Boulter
I left it for a couple of days, occasionally prodding it, hoping it might just bugger off. It didn’t. It was only a little lump and it wasn’t painful; just round and hard and … there. There, where it shouldn’t be.
A few evenings later, having had a teary moment of panic, I told my fella about the boob lump. He had a prod about and confirmed that yes, there was a definite thing-there-that-wasn’t-always-there and we decided that I’d go to see the doctor the next day.
Having had a good old feel of my chest, the GP informed me I have “naturally lumpy breasts” (cheers, love), which made it hard for her to decide what was what. My breasts have always been like that for as long as I’ve had them and to me they’re normal, but I kept pointing to the bit that wasn’t so normal and she agreed.
There was always a damn good chance a hospital appointment would be the outcome of the GP visit but the knot of dread already in my stomach doubled and tangled itself up a bit more when she said that I’d have a date through within a fortnight.
Two days later a letter from the hospital arrived. The stomach knot doubled again. Seeing my name with words like ‘mammogram’, ‘ultrasound’ and ‘needle biopsy’ was a tad surreal. For ten days I worried, stressed, cried, fretted and didn’t sleep or eat properly. My mind went to some really dark places. Preoccupied and forgetful, I did stupid things like putting the milk in the oven and walking all the way to the shops without my purse.
I wasn’t sure what the breast clinic would be like and was pleasantly surprised at the efficiency and organisation of it all. The waiting room was bright and airy and the staff were cheery and nice.
“All four were displayed onscreen in a kind of arty black-and-white titty montage. I almost asked her for the JPEG so I could Instagram it.”
A lovely lady named Jackie called my name before taking me into a room and explaining a doctor would be in to see me to give me a thorough breast exam. I was a bit teary – frightened – but when the doctor arrived she asked me lots of questions and we ended up chatting about beads, jewellery and her recent trip to Murano and I felt a lot more relaxed. After she’d examined both boobs she checked my armpits as well and then she took a black pen and marked the spot of the offending lump on my left breast. She told me the lump was tiny and I’d done a great job finding it. Then I was given a ‘modesty blanket’(basically a lavender-coloured tea towel) to cover my chest while she explained I was being sent for a mammogram, then an ultrasound.
I wasn’t expecting to have a mammogram. I thought they only did those for people over 40, but no, it’s over 35 and I was 36 at the time. The breast tissue can be quite dense in under-35s, you see, which can make it hard to read the resulting images. The dread knot tightened a little more because I’d read that mammograms can be quite painful.
That wasn’t the case for me. The mammogram machine was smaller than I’d pictured. It was shiny and very techno-pretty. I got my tits out again and the mammographer explained I’d have four X-rays taken; one horizontal squish and one vertical squish (my terminology, not hers) for each boob. After positioning my left breast on the funky carbon fibre plate and my cheek (facial) on a perspex guard, she pressed a foot pedal and another clear plate came down and squeezed my boob.
She pressed a button and the scanner moved across and captured the image. I reckon my breast was squished for ten seconds max and it didn’t hurt. It was a bit uncomfortable but I repeat: it didn’t hurt me. I don’t have the biggest tits (36B in case you’re wondering) and I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough to put on the plate so I felt a strange sense of pride when I saw the image of my breast appear on the computer monitor. I pointed and said “Oooh! Look at that! That’s my boob!” After she’d taken the other three images, all four were displayed onscreen in a kind of arty black-and-white titty montage. I almost asked her for the JPEG so I could Instagram it.
I put my top back on (no bra this time because at this point I was sick of putting it on and taking it off), gathered my tea towel and sat back down in the waiting room. After a short wait I was taken into another room for an ultrasound. I got my tits out again and the nurse positioned me on my side on one of those paper hospital beds, one arm above my head a la Kate Winslet in Titanic when Leo DiCaprio draws her like one of his French girls. I deployed the modesty blanket and chatted to the nurse about the increasing number of men having mammograms and how breast screening places are trying to move away from pink as the predominant colour on literature and the like. (They seem to be opting for purple.)
The doctor came in, sat down, squirted some gel on his ultrasound scanny reader wand thing and then placed it on my black felt tipped pen mark. Within ten seconds he said, “That’s a cyst. A tiny, benign, non-cancerous, fluid-filled cyst.” He turned the screen towards me and I said, “Ah, this is the bit where you show me the heartbeat!” and oh, how we all giggled, and then he pointed at a black spot on the image (the cyst) and said that it will disappear of its own accord. No need for a needle biopsy. I wanted to hug him and give him a kiss, but I played it cool and just shook his hand.
Putting my bra and top back on, I felt lighter. All the worry and stress evaporated. I felt the dread knot in my stomach unravel and I grinned. The nurse handed me a (mainly purple) leaflet about breast cysts and I went out into the waiting room, grinning like a fool, and told fella we could go home.
And that was that.
I check my breasts monthly. It takes five minutes. If you don’t check yours, DO IT. Get to know what’s ‘normal’ so you’ll be able to spot any future changes. If you do check and you have found a lump but you’ve left it, then please go and get it looked at. Yes, it’s scary and yes, it can be worrying, but nine out of 10 breast lumps are benign so it’s worth going to have your mind put at rest.