Mama’s lump.


I parked the car and walked across the tarmac to the hospital. The air was so frigid it felt like my fingers would shatter if they bumped into anything. I walked in the main doors and asked directions. To the breast clinic. The clinic with the name obviously belonging to a woman who’d died of breast cancer and left money to the hospital.

I wound my way through the corridors, each uglier than the next. Finally I found the unit- so happy to find the place I was so unhappy to be – and walked in. The walls were light pink, there was a built in tea bar, the receptionists actually smiled. This was a place, crammed next to the MRI and mammography unit, where people were trying to be cheerful and upbeat.

Except we weren’t. The patients, I mean. We were there in that overflowing room, each chair taken, thigh to thigh. Most were with a partner, a sister, some with their whole families. One woman, a mother, brought her tiny baby with her because he needed to breastfeed. People’s voices were loud, frantic, forced. The drone of voices was so overwhelming it was difficult to hear the names the nurses called out. Then a woman with a bright scarf wrapped around her head walked in, and there was a heartbeat of silence before the voices swelled again.

That woman made me realise this was all real. Cancer was real. It happened to women, to men, to YOUNG women. To mothers. I took the time to look around that room, to take in specific faces. That stoic, quiet woman with her Bible spread across her lap. The young. boisterous one in the pink sweatshirt. The one tapping her fingernails on her knees. I thought about the blogger I respect so much, the one with two small children, who is now is hospice. The one I don’t know if she’s still alive, or not, because her blog hasn’t been updated.

Eventually my name was called, and I was taken directly to a doctor, rather than the nurse I was told I’d see first. The doctor had a cheerful and brisk smile. She looked at my form – breastfeeding, smoking, contraceptive histories. Length of my cycles and how long I bled each time. Family history of any major medical problems. She asked a few questions before asking me to strip to my waist.

‘Your left breast was the reason you were referred. I’m going to check both breasts so I can compare how they feel.’ She kneeded my flesh, my breasts giving way to her fingers. Her voice told me what she was doing, explaining how I should do this at home a few times a year. Then she frowned.

‘This breast is definitely lumpier than the right. Because of your age, I’m not going to send you for a mammogram, but I am going to send you for a scan. You’ll have it and then come back to me; I’ll give you the results. If they decide they need a tissue sample, I won’t be able to give you those results today.’ She handed me a tie-on hospital top.

I looked her in the eye. ‘Is this something I need to be worried about?’

I was shown into the next waiting room. This was was small, cozy. Five chairs in a circle. Posters all over the walls with cancer helplines, groups for hair loss support, chemotherapy support, financial support for women with cancer. One entire wall was covered in leaflets we could take away. No one took any. I think we were trying to ignore them.

My eyes were drawn to the section labelled ‘children.’ I’d been missing Snort and Coconut so badly that morning, and so full of questions. What if I died before they were old enough to remember me? What if my dying screwed them up for life? Was the love, the deep love, I’d given them for two years deep enough in their marrow to sustain them, to nourish them, to help them carry on?

I’ll be fine. This won’t happen to me. But then, quick on the heels, I bet everyone thinks it won’t happen to them.

As I scanned the leaflets, my eyes were caught by a big, book shaped leaflet with bright colours and drawings. ‘Mummy’s Lump.’ My heart stuttered and I looked away, but every few minutes I found myself staring at it again, helpless to stop.

An hour later I was called down for my scan. As I arranged myself on the table – leaning on my right side, left arm up and behind my head – I said, ‘I feel like I’m posing for a dirty picture.’ I do tend to say whatever pops in my head, but what I didn’t say was ‘Why is the consultant radiologist here? And the other grand high pumba doctor? Is this standard procedure?? Please God let it be standard procedure.’

She asked me a few questions and began to move the wand over my breast. Over my nipples, over the rounded sides, pushing, pushing. She found a spot that hurt, and she went over that spot again and again. Again. It hurt, my breast hurt, those lumpy bits hurt – but nothing compared to my heart. Why is she going over the same area so many times? Does she see something?!

The other doctor walked in. ‘I don’t see anything,’ she said. He took the wand, went over the same areas, focussed and confident.

‘There is nothing to see here.’ He turned to me. ‘Everything looks fine, there’s nothing for you to worry about.’

I exhaled for the first time since entering the breast unit three hours before. I saw the first doctor again, and left with a leaflet detailing the massive doses of evening primrose oil I needed to take, with relief coursing through my veins, with the overwhelming urge to get home and hold my children. To tell TMD that, once again, we were okay. Life had given us another break.

I also walked out with words repeating in my ears. The woman with the Bible, who’d sat with me in room after room, she wasn’t so lucky. She didn’t get to escape. She had to make an appointment to come back in two weeks, but me? I’d been told not to worry about coming to the follow up appointment if it was too tricky with the move, that there was nothing to worry about.

The main waiting room, so teeming with life that morning, was quiet and empty when I left. There must have been a hundred of us in there that morning, a hundred of us waiting to see. To find out.

I hope all one hundred of us are okay tonight, tomorrow, forever.


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3 Responses to “Mama’s lump.”

  1. Michelle Says:

    Such powerful writing. I choked up. This is the 2nd blog post I have read in 2 days of women having heart stopping close calls with breast cancer. So glad that you are both in the all clear.

  2. Christy Says:

    I’m so happy for you and your family. Cancer is not something that anyone wants to face, especially with young children.
    I can’t say it enough, I’m so happy for you all.

  3. mamacrow Says:

    (((HUGS))) (and an entirely selfish *PHEW*)

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