I’m still processing yesterday’s huge events. Iris came with me to the hospital. If you’re not sure who your friends are here is a clue: they are the people who are prepared to spend half a day sitting around in stuffy waiting rooms reading dreary magazines and just... waiting... whilst you try to look all breezy and unconcerned and they try to mentally devise what they are going to say or do if you happen to receive the worst news of your life in the next ten minutes. Iris, it has to be said, made the best of the situation. “I just love drinks machines,” she enthused, “I could stay here all day zipping these little plastic capsules into the slot and watching the coffee come out.”
The receptionist raises a wary eyebrow.
Vanessa, a pretty radiographer, calls my name. “Come with me Iris,” I whisper. We process down the hall, Iris clutching her coffee and magazine. Vanessa bars her at the door. “You can’t come in here. It’s an x-ray room.” Oh. I enter alone. I remember the drill from the first time I had a mammogram. Strip to the waist. Get prodded, poked and pulled into a position that would probably land one a leading role in some kind of gymnastic-porno movie. Have right breast squashed flat between a metal plate and a plastic paddle. So far so good. Then the left breast, the one that had the cancer, the surgery and the radiotherapy. I twist and turn. The paddle descends. The squashing commences. I scream uncontrollably. “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” gulps Vanessa and releases the vice. Gasping for air I leap across the floor and pull my jumper on. “Just two more images to do,” says Vanessa. Trembling, I disrobe again and step back up to the plate.
A few excruciating minutes later we exit the room. Iris is loitering outside the door. “Was that you yelling?” she asks and rolls her eyes.
Then it’s down to the labyrinth where the ultrasound lurks. I lie on the bench in a blue patterned hospital gown. Iris flicks the pages of Elle. Dr Teo bustles in. “Your mammogram looks fine,” he announces. Here is something I’ve learned about medical professionals. If everything is fine they tell you straight away. If it’s not fine they stay tight-lipped. “So, are you worried about anything?” the doctor asks. I tell him about all my worries: feeling lumps in my armpit; stabbing pains under and around my breast; anxiety; shortness of breath; the continued swelling in my back. I consider adding in my fear of losing my home and dying alone or the earth being swallowed up by a black hole. Dr Teo interrupts quickly, “Ok, let’s have a look.” He runs the magic wand over my breasts as I stare wildly about the room. Very soon he is reassuring me. “Nothing to worry about here.”
In the pit of my stomach I feel that feeling that one feels when they finally let you off the giant Ferris wheel, only better.
Next stop: Mr Hadjiminas. He is all smiles. I hand him the mammogram films and he clips them to the light box. “These look perfect.” The image of my left breast is peppered with tiny white shapes, like arrowheads. “What are those?” I exclaim. “Oh, titanium staples,” replies Mr H. Life is full of little surprises. Mr H is equally happy with the ultrasound scans. “Now, let’s have a look at your back.”
Behind the screen, Mr Hadjiminas inspects the wobbly cushion of fluid in my back. “Hmm. This seems to have got worse. I think it might need more surgery.” He looks at the scar that runs down my side. “It will be tricky.” I gulp. “For me, not for you” he adds hastily. Well I should hope so. I will be unconscious. “Let’s give it to the end of the summer.” Fine by me.
“So, next time,” I ask, “can I not have the mammogram, just the ultrasound scan?” Mr H almost snorts. “Do you think we are giving you these mammograms just for fun? Of course you have to have the mammogram.” Well it was worth a try.