“ May help in the prevention of breast cancer with early detection. „
When you reach a certain age (ie 50) the NHS automatically invite you to take part in their Breast Screening programme. The invitation can come at any time after your 50th birthday and I have to say you can wait up to a year depending when your birthday is and how your local Health Trust run their programme. I was lucky in that my invitation came within two months of my birthday but I had to postpone the appointment twice due to being ill and then having to attend a funeral. When ringing to re-arrange the appointment the staff where very helpful and didn;t make me feel as if I was putting the inevitable off !!!
The screening itself can take place in either a mobile unit or at the nearest local hospital taht has a breast care unit.
My initial appointment was at our mobile screening unit which was resident in the local Coop Car Park !.
I was slightly apprehensive about what was going to happen - the process had been likened to making a "Boob Sandwich". Oh well I thought - you have to endure these things and it can't be any more embrassing or intrusive as a cervial smear test !!!
So off I toddled to the mobile unit, making sure that I was wearing an easily take offable top and a semi decent bra, they also ask you to make sure you didn't wear spray on deodrant or strong perfume.
The first thing I noticed when entering the mobile unit was that only a small area was reserved as a waiting area - so how big was this machine going to be. Well I was soon to find out - The nurse ticked my name of the list and asked me to take as seat and within no time had explained to me that I would need to go into one of the two cubicles and remove my top and bra and then put the top back on. I was whisked into the machinery room to be greeted by a lovely lady (not sure if she was a nurse or a xray lady!) who then proceeded to explain exactly was going to happen.
Basically the machine is a special x-ray type machine that has two plates that can be horizontal or vertical and which are squashed together with your breast stuck in the middle. Now that may sound very straight forward - but you need to be a contortionist to get everything where it should be. One arm is up, one arm is out and down you can't stand straight as you have to get one breast out of the way - but althrough the lady was very gentle and explained exactly what she was trying to achieve - which of course was a clear picture of your breast. Each one is photographed vertically and horizontally and I can quite see where the analogy of being a boob sandwich came from. I now know what a panini roll must feel like in a panini press!!
The two plates come together quite hard and the nice lady beats a hasty retreat to press the button that will take the photo. All this of course is done under stricit healthy and safety quidelines and every detail of my identification was logged on the photographic plates. After what seemed a lifetime but of course was only about 20 minutes everything was finished and I was allowed to get dressed and then had to wait while they checked that the photoplates where ok. I was told that the results would be about 2 - 3 weeks as they are checked by 3 different doctors at the main hospital before a final result is agreed upon.
Two weeks later I received a letter in the post - now our post does not come until about 2.30pm - and I then had the worst 24 hours of my life. The letter basically said that they would like me to attend an appointment the following day at 2.00pm as there was a problem with my photos and they needed further investigation, plus an apointment with a consultant and I should allow at least 2 hours for the appointment as it could be necessary for a biopsy to be done as well. Now my mind went into overdrive as I believe most women would as you can only imagine the worst, and that you are going to be dead within the year of breast cancer. I managed to get through the rest of the day, very close to hysterics and no matter how much I tried to think positively and tried to convince myself that there was nothing wrong it didn't work.
My husband came and picked me up from work the following lunchtime and we went through to the Breast Care Unit at our local general hosiptal. The staff there are obvioulsy used to dealing with near hysterical ladies who fear the worst. The Photograph lady explained exactly what they had found on the plates and why they needed to retake certain plates. Still panic striken, it didn't help one iota seeing in black and white what she was talking about!.
After being sandwich again in the machine I was sent back to the waiting room to wait to see the consultant. All the time my husband was reassuring and I felt very sad for the lady that came in whilst we were in the waiting room who had no-one with her to reassure her.
Eventually I was called in with my husband (thinking - this has to be bad news if they want him as well!) to see the consultant. She had the first and second lot of photos on the light board and showed us exactly what we were looking at - a big mass on the first one which was only a tiny mass on the second one. She wanted to do an ultrasound, so once again I undressed, laid on the couch and was smoothered with the jelly stuff they use before being able to look at the pictures as she undertook a very comprehensive examination. All the time she was explaining what we were seeing and to my everlasting relief declared that there wasn't anything there that was sinister and that everything was fine.
We had a discussions about why the photographs which were taken the first time had shown this large mass and apparently if the breast is not positioned exactly right and/or the plates aren't pressed in hard enough it can show up what appears to be an abnormality. I did tell her how worried I'd been to recieve a letter with an appointment less than 24 hours away and she quite understood where I was coming from, but as she pointed out it was better to get people back as soon as possible rather than wait three weeks or more for a follow up appointment.
Now I have nothing but admiration for the way the NHS treated me - the staff at all times were courteous and answered any questions, no matter how trivial they seemed.
I was lucky - my scare turned out to be nothing but I am sure that their treatment of more serious cases would be just as sympathetic and professional.
Deep down I probably knew that nothing was wrong as I do undertake regular self-examination and had not felt anything different in the make up of my breasts - but having said that I am extra vigilant now.
Whilst the Breast Screening programme will not stop Breast Cancer altogether, early detection of the disease can only be a good thing in ensuring survival.
It is a shame it is not offered to younger women routinely, although any problems with your breasts should immediatley be reported to your doctor who will arrange for a mammogram.
May help in the prevention of breast cancer with early detection.