I am one of those people who is quite useful in minor emergencies involving lost children, blood, fear etc. I suppose that growing up in a big family is eventful enough to encourage measured reactions, and I was briefly a St. John’s Ambulance Brigade first-aider, so one way or another, my instinct is to quell panic and do the necessary. Afterwards, of course, I get tearful and trembly, but that’s what the Great British Cuppa was invented for.
So when Habibibaba was about nine months old, and I found a lump in my breast, I took a deep breath, made a cup of tea - and a doctor’s appointment for a couple of days later - and waited to see what would come of it.
The doctor did the examination. This was quite an interesting experience in itself: the avoidance of eye contact; his concentration on the matter in hand (!) and mine on a patch of wall, all apparently as matter-of-fact as the wash and rinse before a haircut. Yes, there was a lump.
Well, actually I knew that, having surreptitiously poked at it morning and evening in the hope that I’d imagined it. Rats. There are occasions when one would really not mind being written off as a hysteric. An appointment was booked for ten days later, with The Consultant. At this point I thought I’d better tell Habibi, keeping it low-key, though we were both rather anxious at how fast I’d got a specialist appointment. This wasn’t what we’d heard about the NHS. Was there something we should know?
Ten days of being calm and sensible, of not thinking about how bereaved Habibi would manage with motherless Habibibaba, and of being perfectly confident that everything would be ok in the short or medium term. Certainly no more poking about: the nerves can only stand so much! It was comforting to know that my maternal grandmother, who had developed breast cancer in her 70s, made a full recovery, and lived another decade or so. Yes. I liked that.
The Consultant's examination; same experience, different room. There was no lump. Sorry? There was no lump. But there was! I’d found it AND the GP had found it. It couldn’t just go, could it?
Actually, it could.
The Consultant did not doubt that there had been a lump, but how had I found it?
By doing a self-examination, as explained in a magazine.
Sigh. Magazines. How regularly did I do these self-examinations?
Well, this was the first time I’d bothered really.
Basically, girls, self-examination is a good thing, provided we do it regularly; because hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle can and may generate lumps and bumps, which then subside all by themselves and no harm done; and regular checking familiarises us with those ups and downs, so that we don’t take fright over nothing.
I don’t mean to suggest that if you find something you assume it’s ok; or if you suspect something, you give yourself permission to ignore it: of three special women I know, who’ve developed cancers in recent years, two are still here, and the world is a better place for their presence; the one who could not bring herself to go to the doctors, for fear of what they’d find, well, she’s long gone, and we’re the poorer for her loss. If in doubt, you get your ass down to the doctor p.d.q. You owe it to yourself, and to everyone else whose life your life touches! But wait a while before practising your stoic smile and window-shopping for designer headscarves.
As for me, I left the room expressing decorous relief and gratitude to The Consultant, and went on my way. About four minutes later I was standing outside trembling and gasping, with my fingertips almost embedded in the bark of a tree, as my nervous system registered that it was now safe to release the self-control of the previous fortnight. Being brave had seemed almost easy, relief nearly floored me.
I expect I walked home quite jauntily afterwards, to the internal rhythm of ‘I’m fine! I’m fine. I’m fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine!! Yeehaaa!’ Actually, I have no idea – the rest of that day’s a complete blank, but Umm Habibibaba’s still here, tralala!