It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t a special one, and I would have been quite happy to go about my day as normal and play netball in the evening. However, this was not how it panned out.
I have mentioned before that I lost my Mam when I was 16. I was lucky – she had breast cancer when I was 7, and lived for another 9 years before the cancer took over her body. My aunt died, also of cancer, a few months before Mam. I cannot imagine how difficult this must have been for my Grandma.
Many years ago, my cousin and I discussed what this could mean for us. For me, the breast cancer was only on one side of my family. For her, it was both maternal and paternal. She asked if I would consider going for genetic testing, and if I would have my breasts removed if the results were grim. I can’t remember what answer I gave her.
I am now around the age that my Mam was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. My Dad has been
nagging gently encouraging me to get checked out. My GP referred me on, and I had an enormous questionnaire to complete before being invited to attend a Family History Breast Cancer Clinic.
We have a helpful “Choose and Book” system in place here. I wasn’t pleased with the date offered, so I waited a couple of weeks to see if more appointments would appear. All I got was a letter asking me to get on with the choose and book… 2-3 hours at the hospital on my birthday it was.
Nice birthday present
I have to say I wasn’t particularly looking forward to going, but it didn’t weigh too heavily on me. What I hadn’t realised was that I would be in a room full of women attending a talk. Funnily enough, not many people were chatting. One pair of women made friends, and there was a mother with two adult daughters who engaged with each other. Everyone else kept their eyes down.
The talk was fascinating, and most reassuring. I am at “moderate risk” of getting breast cancer. Sorry, ladies, but 1 in 8 of us with NO family history will develop this disease. Being at moderate risk only puts me a couple of percentage points up the scale. The consultant who spoke to us told us to live our lives. We will hear of so many contradictory ways of preventing cancer that we could become obsessed by it. Eat relatively healthily, don’t drink or smoke too heavily, exercise moderately, and be happy. Don’t let the possibility of breast cancer in the future take over our lives.
Don’t worry – be happy!
We were all offered a preventative drug, but this comes with unpleasant side effects. We were also offered a yearly mammogram until we reach the age where all women are called up 3-yearly. We had the option of a physical examination that day, but it probably wouldn’t tell us anything as we know our own breasts best.
So, I declined the physical check and the drugs. I have been on heavy-duty oestrogen suppressants in the past for the treatment of endometriosis, and they were not pleasant. I have, however, taken up the offer of yearly mammograms. I have heard that this is not a particularly pleasant experience. I may, in fact, be going through it as you read this as my first mammogram is the day this post will be published. Something to look forward to on the last day of term!
I think the most valuable gift I received was to carry on living my life. Check my breasts every few months. Keep generally healthy. But don’t worry about it.
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