I had something of a setback today, as the MRI scan results showed a second lump.
It's in the same breast, and is pretty small - 4.5mm compared to the 27mm of the 'main' lump. It may not even make much difference - hopefully, they can whip it out during the surgery along with the other lump. But it's not really what you want to hear, and it can't help but bring a feeling to mind of the cancer spreading.
The most immediate impact of this news is that I had to have more scans as part of today's appointment. This time, my other 'arf, John, came with me, which helped very much, especially as this development was unexpected.
Once we got to 'X-Ray 2', it was the gown routine again, with me finally finding out that I had been wearing it the wrong way round on previous visits!
The ultrasound was first, so it was gel on the boobs, and a radiographer moving a handheld thingy over my boob while watching a screen. This second lump is so small that it took lots of moving the device around to finally locate it and take its photo.
Once she'd had a look, the radiographer decided that I needed another biopsy, which I knew from previous experience of a couple of weeks ago was not going to be much fun. So I got John to stand where I could see him without having to see the gigantic needle and the staplegun that would be spending the next ten minutes or so piercing and clicking inside my breast.
The radiographer applied disinfectant wipes, then a local anaesthetic with a needle, then made a small cut to insert the biopsy kit. Then the staplegun thing kicked in. OK, so it's not actually a staplegun. But that's what I call it because it sounds just like one, and the feeling is pretty much what it would feel like if someone were stapling inside my breast (not that I would know, exactly, but, you know, I'm guessing).
Having taken bits out of my tits, they then put something in - a metal clip which will help them find the lump next time they have to go looking for it.
This is an ideal opportunity to discuss distraction techniques. Needles and stapleguns are not pleasant, and distracting yourself is a very good idea. Some suggestions:
- Do not get your partner to pull silly faces, especially if your boobs bounce when you laugh. This can make it very hard for the radiographer to aim accurately at a very small lump.
- Recite poems. If you don't write your own, feel free to use mine. They are great.
- Before I wrote poems, I used to recite scenes from favourite films during painful medical procedures. I'm sure that the staff will not think you are referring to their hospital as a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
- Discuss distraction techniques with the radiographer and nurses while they are carrying out the procedure - a very useful distraction technique in itself.
- Arising from the point above, it appears that two of the most popular are singing and swearing.
- I find that a particularly effective, though somewhat macabre one, is to remind yourself that there are other procedures that are far more painful. I remembered this from childbirth (when I reminded myself that it could be worse, I could be at the dentist) and from going to the dentist (when I reminded myself that it could be worse, it could be childbirth).
- Be assured that the radiographer will not care how eccentric your distraction technique is. S/he just wants you to stay still. Whatever it takes, sisters (and brothers).
- The biopsy has left a wound, which is sore and covered with a dressing. It will come off in a few days' time, but until then, there will be no swimming, upper-body exercising or similar exertion.
After the biopsy, we needed a mammogram. This involves standing in exactly the right posture next to a machine and hoisting your boob onto a table, then a transparent plate descending on top of it and squashing it out into a vast mass of boob (if you have vast boobs; presumably a smaller mass if you have smaller ones). Mine looked like a huge piece of bread dough waiting to be kneaded into a gigantic loaf.
Often, this is all a mammogram involves. But sometimes, you need a sideways one too. Just my luck. Sideways mammograms with enormous boobs are hilarious. The table is tilted to vertical, and in the effort to get my breast into the correct position, we ended up with one person crouched under the machine pushing my boob upwards, and the other guiding the transparent plate into place, and me pulling my other boob out of the way. Once in place, the breast was squashed flat between two vertical plates. Feel free to pause and imagine that.
Sadly, your accompanying partner is not allowed into the room for the mammogram, so poor John missed out on all this slapstick entertainment.
Once back in the clinic with the registrar, the other immediately impact of the second lump was revealed: I would not get my surgery date today, but will have to wait another week until the biopsy results are in. I'll be discussed at the team meeting next Wednesday then have an appointment on Friday to get the results and, hopefully, set the surgery date and discuss further treatment.
Please note that next Friday is my 50th birthday. What a way to celebrate. I'm pitching for a crack-of-dawn appointment as John and I are due to go for a, erm, romantic weekend in a hotel in Lewes.
I got a bit more information too. (In fact, I think they could have given me this information last time, but didn't, about which I am a bit peeved.)
- My cancer cells are Grade 2. This is not as bad as Grade 3 (fast-spreading, aggressive), but worse than Grade 1 (slow to grow and spread).
- The cells are oestrogen receptor postive and HER2 receptor negative. This, apparently, is a good combination. It means that post-surgery, a five-year course of hormone tablets has a good chance of stopping the cancer coming back.
And I remembered one more thing before I left the hospital - I got the prescription charge exemption certificate. When you have cancer, you get free presecriptions (whoop whoop). Not that I'm tight or anything, but why pay for meds when you don't have to?
Why anyone should have to pay for prescriptions for anything, I do not know. I guess I do know, actually - it's so that pharmaceutical companies can make a lot of money and the government can save a bit of money which it can then give to big companies in tax breaks. Sick system. Scrap presecription charges and bring the pharmaceutical industry into public owneship, that's what I reckon.