In June I began working from home five days a week. I adopted a position for most of the day which I know an ergonomic assessor would have had a fit about. Intermittently over the summer I developed a pain under my arm and through my breast which would disappear almost as quickly as it came. When the weather grew colder I moved into the snug and started to use my desk and for several months the pain seemed to have disappeared. Then in December it came back with a vengeance.
I’m sure there are all times we’ve felt failed by the NHS, an undiagnosed sinus condition in my early twenties is definitely one of these times. Thankfully I’ve had an altogether much more positive experience more recently.
Nurse appointments are quite difficult to come by at my surgery but I’m very lucky to be able to get an appointment the same day with a doctor. While I know breast pain is unlikely to be anything too untoward, this was my mum’s only symptom when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in October 2015. I wasn’t taking any chances and willingly whipped off my top to be throughly examined by the doctor with a female nurse present. I felt a bit flustered but was pleased my condition was taken seriously.
The medical professionals didn’t think the lumpy mass they could feel was anything to be concerned about and I was told to relax and enjoy Christmas. I left that day with a referral in the system to the two week breast clinic at my hospital feeling quite emotional yet reassured. Over the next few days the pain increased; I couldn’t sleep on my left side and my arm felt numb and tingly, then it moved to my leg, then across my back, ribs and shoulder. On Becky’s advice I called 111. They were concerned I was having heart problems and sent me back to my GP to be hooked up to an ECG.
Once again the GP (a different one this time) was calm and approachable. He acknowledged the situation was stressful and diagnosed the additional pain as anxiety related. I hadn’t realised I was distressed about the situation. Yes it was playing on my mind but so were a heap of other things too, however it seems the combination of the mental anguish manifested itself in physical pain.
Due to the Christmas holidays and over subscribed resources it was about three weeks before I got to see the consultant. I spent two hours at my local hospital first being examined, then having an ultrasound, then back to the consultant for the results. As James and I sat in the waiting room, watching husbands being called into the room where their wives were being delivered news, memories of the day my Mum received her diagnosis came flooding back to me. I was very positive about my own situation but that day in autumn 2015 was the most terrifying of my life and it was no wonder I had felt anxious about the circumstances.
Thankfully they had just found several cysts and uneven tissue, and the original soreness was diagnosed as rib pain. The anxiety cramps disappeared soon after and thanks to acupuncture and mindfulness exercises the rib pain has also dissipated.
The purpose of this post was not to go into detail about my medical history, but to bring awareness to the screening programmes and guidelines that are in place to support with our lady bits (and beyond actually as I made use of the two-week skin clinic last year too to get various moles investigated).
I’ve never gone topless on the beach and I am very self conscious about having skin on show so I can sympathise with why some people would feel embarrassed about baring all, however these medical professionals HAVE SEEN IT ALL, thousands and thousands of times over. I realised it was perhaps a bit narcissistic to think they would be bothered about my own anatomy and I employ the same thought process about my smear test. My sister told me she’d recently had a conversation with someone who had ‘better things to do with her time than have a smear’. While I can think of more comfortable places I could lie with my legs akimbo I can’t think of a better way to spend three minutes of my day than potentially saving my life, and in my last one I had a jolly informative conversation with my nurse too. The NHS is stretched but these clinics, tests and procedures can help prevent far more costly cancer treatment later on down the line.
Ladies, get those breasts examined if you feel anything untoward and get your cervix screened when the letter comes through. There’s no need to be embarrassed. As we celebrate International Women’s Day and all that it is to be women, there’s something incredibly empowering about taking charge of your health.
For information on what to expect from a breast clinic appointment visit Breast Cancer Care.