I was a little reluctant to write this post just now seeing as a) it’s not Breast Cancer awareness week or similar b) I didn’t want to come across all patronising. However, with Mother’s Day approaching, I’m finding it hard to focus on the usual flowers and chocolate business this year and my mind keeps ticking over with thoughts about this year could have turned out so differently for my own mum.
My mum is 64 and generally keeps pretty fit and well. She lives alone, sorts herself out, and gets on with things. She’s a pretty glam grannie. We’ve no history of any major illness in the family or any cause for concern. She is, however, more than a little flaky when it comes to matters of her health. She’s old school, the sort of “it’ll be right in the morning” type whose primary concern with regards to all things medical appears to be not to bother the doctor.
Because she is in such good shape, I wasn’t overly worried when she told me she’d been called back for further tests following her most recent mammogram. All routine, she assured me (and a quick google check confirmed her story–I generally don’t take her word for it). She was sent an appointment to attend a Breast Clinic whereby they might give you another mammogram, or take a closer look at anything dodgy, or have a biopsy. It could even be the case that they simply just couldn’t get a clear picture, and wanted to check again. The overwhelming majority of women called back for these things are sent merrily packing on their way, never bothered with such concerns until the next mammogram rolls around.
So I was slightly more concerned when, following her trip to ‘the one stop boobie shop’, mum told me they had ‘seen something’ and she’d had a biopsy done. I was a lot more concerned when she came out with the fact that she had not bothered to turn up for her last two mammograms. The NHS offers breast screening to all women aged 50-70 every three years, so that meant now they’ve seen something, and it’s been six years since mum had herself checked up. If something sinister was there, who knows how long it could have been there for?!
She didn’t offer much excuse for not going previously, but I suppose it’s like any of us who miss their smear appointment, or any other medical screening. Problems like this don’t seem tangible or real if you’ve no direct (or even indirect) experience of them; Cancer is something that happens to other people. Not fit, well, happy and healthy people like you, me, or my mum……right?!
You’ve probably worked out by now where this post is going. The three-week wait for the biopsy results was agonising for me, so I can’t imagine how mum must have felt. I trawled the internet scrutinising every possible outcome and drove myself half insane in the process. You would think this level of preparation would have stood us in good stead when the time came to get the results; but the news still hit mum (and me) like a tonne of bricks. The staff were brilliant and answered all of our questions, but mum was in such shock she can’t even remember the appointment or what she had asked. They booked her in for her surgery in a couple of week’s time.
After we got the news, we immediately did what any sensible self-respecting mother/daughter duo would do and went directly to the pub and sank a bucket of wine. We talked about how mum felt that in her 20’s her boobs existed for men to ogle at, in her 30’s they were there to feed children and thereafter were nothing but a hassle and backache, and now after all that, they turn around and try to kill her! Boobs were spiteful bas***ds, we surmised.
We had been assured at that initial appointment that the cancer was tiny, and while tests showed it was moderately aggressive the doctors were confident they had caught it really early. This was borne out by the post-operative results; they got the lot out, and then some and thankfully mum could escape chemotherapy (though still needed radiation-also not a picnic). What was really interesting though, was that this ‘moderately aggressive teeny tiny’ tumour had grown quite significantly in the matter of weeks it took from diagnosis to surgery. It was clearly a nasty little bugger, but she was going to be absolutely fine. The doctors told mum afterwards that because the cancer was deep within the breast and centrally located, she would have had no hope of ever being able to feel this herself, and by the time she did, it almost certainly would have been too late.
The point here is, there’s no doubt that being diagnosed with cancer has got to be just about some of the shittiest news a person can get. It certainly shook my whole family up something terrible. However, my mum is so incredibly lucky that I can barely put it in to words. She missed six years worth of breast screening. If she had been away, or had something remotely more interesting planned on the day she had her mammogram appointment she would happily have sacked this one off too. And then that nasty little bugger would have been quietly and swiftly taking over from the inside and no one would have known about it. The rate it was growing, by the time she’d have noticed it would have been enormous. And I dread to think of what the outcome might have been. For her to bother to turn up when she did, and for this thing to only surface this year and not last year, or the year before that is nothing short of a miracle in my book.
So, just like we drag ourselves to our smear appointments and nag and hassle our friends to do the same, make sure your mummy is behaving herself too, won’t you? I think that our generation’s mothers are far too busy being doting grandmas, fabulous mums, good friends and general all-round pension age dynamos that sometimes they forget to look after themselves too. Mammograms are so important and what must seem like another irritating over-precaution can be a matter of life and death. Even if you are fit, healthy and fabulous.
When you’ve finished nagging your mum, have a feel of yours too, ok? You never know.
Happy Mother’s Day. xx