Breast Cancer at 29 – REALLY?! Chapter 4

Tests, Doctors and Realisation

The night we got home from Turkey I couldn’t sleep; I just wanted 8:30am to arrive so that I could get Molls off to nursery, ring the GP and get this thing sorted out. I am never good at waiting; if there is something on my mind, I just want it sorted out there and then otherwise I have a tendency to sit there and brood. Fortunately some good news distracted me – I had a job offer! They were just in the process of putting the details together when I got home but I was really happy to be going to work for this company.

Dr Selvadurai

I got up early on Monday 14th October 2013 to arrange an appointment with my fantastic GP, Naomi Selvadurai, at Canterbury Way surgery in Stevenage. When I got there, I told her about the lump, what had happened in Turkey and told her I thought I needed a referral. When she examined me, her brow furrowed. “Yeah there is something there, isn’t there…”. She thoroughly checked both breasts and armpits and said it would need to be investigated by a breast specialist. I mentioned that I had private medical insurance, as it was a benefit I had through work and asked her about waiting times; she told me I would need to choose one route over the other and admitted that it could take up to 3 weeks to see a consultant on the NHS; if I went private I could see someone this week. It sounded like a no-brainer to me, so she gave me the name of an experienced breast consultant based at Pinehill Hospital in Hitchin, the next town over – and told me a referral letter would be available for me to collect from the surgery the next day.

Logistics of Private Healthcare

Having never ever gone private before, the first thing I did after checking the leaflets was call them up and ask them what I needed to do. They were brilliant at Simplyhealth; they asked the name of the doctor that had been recommended, confirmed that they could authorise me seeing him at Pinehill, gave me an authorisation code, said it would cover any and all diagnostic procedures and told me to phone Pinehill up and book an appointment. If anything else was needed past diagnosis, I was to ring them back and they would advise me of what to do next. It was so easy – reassuring as well given the nerves that were starting to build up. I booked an appointment with Mr Jeremy Wood for the Thursday and then went out for lunch with my friend and bridesmaid Sam. I told her all about the lump, the experience in Turkey and the GP appointment. Sam is diplomatic and can read people’s moods really well (it makes her a great manager); she could see I was worried so reassured me by saying it was probably nothing but I’d done the right thing by getting it checked out. She told me I’d be fine.

When I saw Mr Wood he examined me and asked to see a copy of the report from the hospital in Turkey. It was being translated at the time, so he decided to order an ultrasound anyway. He had wanted me to have the ultrasound there and then, but the specialist who does them happened to be on holiday that day. I didn’t know you COULD have an ultrasound there and then – usually they send you home and write to you a week later, then you might wait a few more weeks. But Mr Wood had me listening out for a phone call from Anita at the breast unit at the QE2 in Welwyn Garden City – to get me booked in asap for a scan. They booked it for the following Tuesday evening, which would have been 22nd October.

The Vicki Adkins Breast Unit

I got to the Vicki Adkins breast unit for 5pm. Andy had told me he couldn’t come along with me because he had to work and there was nobody available to collect Mollie from nursery otherwise. Given Mollie’s age, it wouldn’t have been appropriate for her to come along to the hospital with us both so I agreed. Mum was busy working at home and I didn’t want to bother her. Besides, I thought “it was just going to be a repeat of the ultrasound I had in Turkey”. That was how I justified it to myself. I parked the car, grumbled about how it was a pay-and-display car park (in this day and age! Why couldn’t it be pay-on-foot?!) and managed to locate the breast unit. I was in complete denial, looking back. I sat down in the empty waiting area; there was a sign on the reception desk that said “private patients please wait in the area until you are called.” and I could hear a few people walking around the unit, so I wasn’t too worried about not being found! I looked around the room and to my right there was a notice board, full of posters about breast cancer, support groups, local services, Breast Cancer Care, MacMillan Cancer Support – you name it. It was only then that my heart started to thud and I truly began to appreciate the reality and the gravity of the situation I was in. Why I was sat here, waiting to have a fucking BIOPSY. Of course they suspected cancer. But I was telling myself it was just an opportunity to rule cancer out.

When they called me in I chatted to Anita; she gave me a box to put my things in and a gown to change into. I was to strip to the waist and put the gown on, then wait to be called. They locked my things away for me. Then I was called into a dark room where an ultrasound machine sat waiting. I met a friendly nurse and chatted to her about Mollie, my job offer, the wedding, holiday, my husband etc. I’m quite an outgoing person who meets new people most days for a living and the nurse was very friendly, approachable and put me at ease. I was invited to lay down and the nurse pulled the gown down, then a tall asian man with a kindly face came into the room and introduced himself as Dr Raza, one of the consultant radiologists at the hospital. He confirmed that he works with Mr Wood there at the QE2. I didn’t realise it at the time, being new to private medical care, but these consultants all have NHS bases and work in multiple private hospitals too, so they have a network of specialists they work with and trust to help with your care.

Ultrasound

Dr Raza had a soft voice and a supportive manner. He told me what to expect – that they were going to do an ultrasound to examine both breasts and my armpits too, then they would put some local anaesthetic in, take a long needle and put it into the lump. I’d feel a click – like a hole punch – as he took a tissue sample, then they would send the sample off to the laboratory for analysis. Pretty straightforward it sounded to me. So off we went. He started by examining the left breast and when I looked up at the screen, I saw a big, angry-looking black blob on the screen. He took screenshots and measurements. This is the closest thing I could find on a google image search to what I saw on screen:

The search moved round to my armpits where another blob appeared; he took pictures and measurements of that too then moved round to my right. We didn’t see any black angry blobs on that side. Dr Raza said “Well there is definitely something there that we will need to test; it will probably have to come out.” so I knew surgery was on the cards at some point. Surprisingly, Dr Raza then asked me to sit up and said he wanted me to go and have a mammogram. I had heard that in women aged under 35, it’s unusual to do a mammogram since there are more hormones running around the body, which makes breast tissue denser and harder to analyse. I expressed my surprise given this information – I asked him if I really needed one, and he said very firmly that he would like me to have a mammogram. I wasn’t nervous; I’ve never been worried about scans and needles; I have been known to fall asleep in MRI machines and watch my blood being taken without being squeamish.

My First Mammogram

I’d never had a mammogram before. My mum had told me it was like shutting your tits in a fridge door. For those who don’t know, it’s a machine that takes a detailed scan of your breast tissue from the top and from a side view. It has 2 plates. You basically rest your boob on one plate and another plate is brought down from above it, squashing it flat between the two plates, like so:

The radiologist then leaves the room (like an X-Ray), takes a photo, then comes back in and adjusts the machine so that instead of being squashed from above, the boob is squashed vertically between the two plates.

Me being stupidly nosy, of course, wanting to know what was going on, looked at the screen and saw what looked like a white blob, but it wasn’t a definite shape, it looked like there were tendrils of white reaching out across the breast. I think that was when I realised this was no small thing. It wasn’t a cyst; cysts show up black / hollow because they are full of fluid. This was something far more worrying. It looked a little bit like this picture (again, not my breast – I’ve tried to find the closest to what I saw online):

When I got back into the ultrasound room, I was in a bit of a state. I cried and cried; I sobbed my heart out. I was absolutely terrified, scared that I would die. Scared and angry because I’d left it; been in denial to the point where I had delayed things because I hadn’t wanted to disrupt my life for this. I think I even said “I’ve just got married!”. There were very definitely swear words.

Dr Raza gave me a few minutes; the nurse there was visibly moved by my reaction. She hugged me, gave me tissues, said we would get to the bottom of it. I think she knew what it was, and it was certainly written all over Dr Raza’s face. They’ve got enough experience to know cancer when they see it. It was only a few months later when I returned for a scan that the nurse told me she had gone home and cried that night because she was affected by the fact I was so young and had such a young daughter.

Biopsy

When I had calmed down, Dr Raza came back in and took the biopsy. He injected local anaesthetic into my breast, inserted an enormous but very fine needle (with what looked like a staple gun handle) into the lump; it snapped as he took a tissue sample. They swabbed it to stop the bleeding and then moved on to my armpit to repeat this with what I now know to have been a lymph node. He told me that he would try to push for these results to be analysed a little quicker than normal, to put my mind at rest. Then when it was all done, I got dressed, threw away about a million wet tissues and hugged the nurse again. She let me leave when I had stopped crying and advised that I get a hot bath and have my husband take good care of me when I got home.

Subdued

I went home numb, quiet; exhausted with the emotion of it all. My mum rang me when I was in the car, to ask how it had gone. I told her about the tests and that there wasn’t much more we could do but wait for the results. I can’t remember much else about that evening except that Andy asked me how it had gone and as I had calmed down by then, I said it was fine; I’d get the results back next time I saw Mr Wood. I think I just went to Mollie’s bedroom and stared at her as she slept, trying to blink the tears away as I imagined the worst of things – her not having a mother any more, never knowing me; selfishly me never having the chance to help her with her homework and make sure she grew up to be a confident young lady.

Mum, to this day, wishes she had gone with me to that appointment.

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