1. the identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms.
‘D’ is also for ‘disbelief’, ‘delusion’, ‘denial’.
Buckle up, this might be a long ‘un and full of detail as I get you up to speed. But it starts with a simple fact.
Channel 4 saved my life. Probably. Hopefully.
I left a job I loved after 13 years service (big trauma, long story, another time) and joined Channel 4 in the summer of 2017. By then I’d been having stomach problems for years but they were routinely dismissed by GPs and NHS consultants as ‘just IBS’. So I decided to make the most of C4’s private healthcare plan and get myself checked out properly. Cue a string of embarrassingly invasive tests (you do not want to know where I’ve been probed) that found nothing beyond the gallstones and kidney stones I already knew about. (Question for later, why am I full of stones? I’m surprised I don’t rattle when I walk). But in my final appointment with the gastro specialist, he reviewed an MRI done on my upper abdomen and casually remarked that it seemed to show a lump in the lower part of my left breast. ‘Probably nothing to worry about’ he said, ‘but maybe get it checked out’. Doctors. Blasé as f**k about everything.
Now I’d had a cancer scare when I was at uni, with a lump in my left breast that was quickly diagnosed as benign, so I assumed it was probably that old nobbly bit of boob resurfacing. Plus on self-exam I couldn’t even feel anything like a lump so I wasn’t worried. But I dutifully made an appointment with my GP who, although she couldn’t feel this mysterious lump either and assured me it would be ‘nothing to worry about’ (uncanny how often doctors use that phrase), referred me to the ‘one stop shop’ breast clinic at my local hospital.
And I went to that clinic appointment totally convinced I would be told it all really was ‘nothing to worry about’. Normally I’m a bit of a catastrophizer and can make a malignant mountain out of any old mole(hill) but for some reason, on this occasion I was convinced all would be fine. I knew many women of my age who’d been down the ‘found a lump, got it checked, all A OK’ route and I knew the odds were likely to be in my favour (although we all know how that worked out for Katniss). So waiting at the breast clinic I was calm and curious, probably patronizingly so, as I watched turbaned, tufty and anxious-looking women arriving for their appointments and thought ‘poor them’.
My first encounter with the consultant was brief. A quick grope (all chaperoned by a nurse, of course), another comment that no lump could be felt then packed off for a mammogram and an ultrasound which also turned into a core biopsy. The latter rather took me by surprise but I was assured it was ‘standard practice’ and it was painless and speedy even if it did sound like someone was stapling a huge wad of paper to your boob with one of those massive staple guns your primary school teacher had.
Pretty quickly I was back in the consultant’s office and being told ‘well, the one thing we know is that you don’t have cancer’. Phew, I thought, all as I expected, I thought, nothing to worry about. They’d still have to wait for the results of the biopsy of course to see if the lump was ‘pre-cancer’ (ahem, what? What the blip is pre-cancer?) but I left the hospital reassured and relieved.
That eggshell-thin veneer of self-assurance suffered a few cracks a couple of days later when I was told I needed to return to the hospital for a further mammogram. Of course, my super-powered catastrophizing brain now overwhelmed my ‘it’s nothing to worry about’ facade and went into overdrive about why this was necessary. The secretary’s answer to exactly that question was ‘we need more images’ which did nothing to reassure or explain. I think hospital secretaries take lessons in obfuscation.
The paranoia and confusion snowballed when I turned up for the appointment and learnt that it was now my right breast that they wanted to image. Right breast? Wasn’t it the left breast that had the lump? Why were they suddenly interested in the right one? Why was my left breast no longer of interest? Would it be offended? I tried to reassure myself that this was just a ‘compare and contrast’ exercise (sounding like the 70s-born old-school GCSE kid that I am) but during the ultrasound the radiologist muttered something about ‘microcalcifications’ and my anxiety dial shot right up to the max. Mostly because I had no idea what microcalcifications were and no-one bothered to explain.
After the appointment I was trying to untangle myself from those ridiculous and impossible-to-do-up-without-exposing-some-random-naked-part-of-your-anatomy hospital gowns when the radiologist called my name again. I rushed out into the corridor, half dressed and totally anxious, where she met me and blurted out ‘we need to do another biopsy’ before shoving a leaflet about the process into my hand, turning tail and scurrying away. No warning, no explanation, no privacy, no reassurance.
I stood in the hospital corridor, clutching my clothes to my half-dressed chest and trying (not altogether successfully) not to cry.