I offer a disingenuous smile as I accept directions from the nursing assistant to the xray department in our local hospital. I smile to stop tears from falling as I am so afraid. I found the lump in my breast on the bank holiday weekend we had at the end of last month so it was a few days before I could see my GP. I kept telling myself that it was ok and felt sure that my GP would say it was nothing, just fibrous tissue maybe?
My GP was lovely and smiled kindly as she said that usually at my age she would ask me to return in a couple of weeks at a different point in my cycle but that my new found lump was ‘so significant’ she didn’t want to wait and that she would refer me to our local hospital. My ears pricked up at that point when I heard her tell me that she was referring me on the two week pathway. I knew what she meant, she hadn’t said the words but I heard her questioning breast cancer loud and clear.
I am a nurse, I’m used to examining the evidence base of my actions therefore that’s what I did with the help of Google when I got home. So now full possession of the evidence would tell me that statistically I am in a really low risk group for breast cancer, that most lumps in women my age are harmless but I could still close my eyes and see visions of my daughters graduation and her wedding day without me in it.
My appointment came through in the post within a couple of days and as per the pathway was within two weeks of seeing my GP.
As luck would have it, and I say that in the loosest sense of the word, we had a CQC inspection at work during those two weeks so I was left with little time to think about the lump and the implications which could come with that.
My husband took the morning off work to come with me and my boss told me to take as much time as I needed today and not to rush back to the office, I had told a few friends and they text me to tell me they were thinking about me and praying for me. They reminded me my strength is always in Christ which never fails to make me feel stronger to face whatever challenge life throws at me.
I arrived for my appointment and was seen by a consultant and a nurse who asked me about family history and my own medical history. The consultant then examined me, he agreed he could feel a lump so gave me a slip of paper to take to another department where I was to have a mammogram and an ultrasound scan. He spoke warmly with a reassuring tone in his voice which was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. I attended for my mammogram first and realised in the small room how alone and how vulnerable I felt. As I undressed I was struck by how naked I felt, not just physically but emotionally. The radiographer sensed my nerves and talked me through the procedure. She asked me to sign a form to confirm I wasn’t pregnant and as we have been trying to become pregnant for a year now this stung more than a little as I signed to confirm not. The harsh clamp of the mammogram made me hold my breath, I wondered in those seconds whether I would ever breathe again. I felt like I was drowning, not in water but in a lust for life I was terrified I wouldn’t get to experience. I was drowning in moments I found myself wondering if I would maybe never have.
I was then returned to my husband who knowingly squeezed my hand, we have seen off worse challenges than this as a couple. His hand squeeze told me it would be ok whatever the result. After a short wait I was called through to ultra sound where again I was asked to remove my clothes and felt so painfully vulnerable again. The consultant radiographer and her assistant were both wonderful putting me at ease, they talked me through what could have been a deeply dehumanising process whilst ensuring my dignity at all times. As I lay on my back in the ultrasound room I felt a lone tear roll down the side of my face, the emotions of the day beginning to escape without my permission. The radiographer noticed and offered a caring smile, I explained how long we had been trying to conceive and how I had envisaged being in an ultrasound room for such a different reason this year. I hide my disappointment over that behind a smile daily as people as questions such as how many children I have. I scream silently and try never to show that emotion other than to a select couple of people yet today it spilled out of my eyes and I told a complete stranger in the radiographer.
Back to the clinic I went clutching an envelope which I knew sealed my fate, she she passed it to me the nurse said to use the walk back round to think of any questions and to use the time with the consultant to clear my mind of any worries so I can go home with less weight on my shoulders. Good advice I thought. It’s a strange thing to be the patient when so often I am the nurse, it’s a good reminder how the small comments of care and compassion make such a difference to a patients journey. I shall think on that this week as I plan the care I deliver.
Waiting to be called back in to see the consultant my heart was beating so hard I thought my rib cage was at risk of bursting. What if it was bad news?
I suspect the consultant is an incredible poker player because I scanned his face for clues as we entered the room but nothing was disclosed by his face. He quickly told me that he had seen nothing sinister on the scan or the mammogram but as he can feel a lump he would like to do a needle biopsy. I have a blood clotting disorder so a needle biopsy would need clotting factor treatment beforehand therefore given the probability of risk after seeing the scans etc we decided to wait a few weeks and see if the lump disseminates on its own or if it is still there in 8 weeks when he has asked me to return to clinic he will do a biopsy then.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, my heart was going almost as fast as my brain which has been like a hamster wheel for the past week. I headed to work almost on automatic pilot, trying to process the morning. I felt such relief at what he had told me but with a much reduced but still evident sense of foreboding at the fact he may still do the biopsy in 8 weeks if the lump is still there.
I usually do well to mask my emotions from the world so today was difficult for me to admit my vulnerability. The nursing and medical staff were to be highly commended for putting me at ease, for making a difficult day a little easier. As I reflect upon today I an reminded how frightening being the patient can be. Being a patient today will influence the nurse I am tomorrow with the care I deliver. Those who cared for me today personified the values we all aspire to hold in the NHS, I hope I do that for others. I’m so tired now yet my brain won’t switch off. Hopefully I will rest soon. Good night folks. Xx