And so it begins with the car parking. Do I find a two-hour spot or drive around the block one more time, ending up in a 9-hour spot for $5? Recalling last year’s visit to the breast clinic, I take the second option.
The sticky, pre-Christmas humidity seeps through my cotton shirt and I wonder if my dyed turquoise timber beads will stain. As advised on my appointment reminder, I am wearing “separates”, chosen with absolute lack of enthusiasm this morning.
After last year’s visit, I didn’t want to return. It was so … so… depressing. All of us sitting there, like skittles in a bowling alley, looking at each other and waiting, wondering which one of us would be the “one in eight” statistic to be told we had breast cancer for Christmas. There had been a young woman crying in the courtyard. We had all seen her.
I find myself sitting back in that lounge with about 30 other women, all of us in the same pathetic state of undress. That is, with our “easy-open” gowns, ready to easily open, exposing our variously sized and shaped breasts. I feel a bit risqué and let mine gape wide open. I have barely anything there save a chafe mark from my running bra. Who cares? It’s not like there are any men around.
In fact, the only sight that really takes my eye is the large photo on the wall of a gorgeous, young blonde woman, snuggling her baby. Her name is Helen. This lounge is named after her. In fact, a lot of things are named after her. It’s unnerving. She is so young. She is so pretty and perfect and has such a beautiful baby. Why is her photo on the wall?
I know why, of course. I know… but I don’t really want to know. None of us do. We all avert our eyes, finding comfort in ageing copies of Woman’s Day or InStyle where we can see photos of vibrant, interesting, living people. Some women chat quietly about their holiday plans. I see the local Tupperware lady.
The “out of order” notice stuck to the instant coffee machine throws me deeper into despair. I hear one woman announce there are problems with the equipment and my heart sinks. I want to get in and get out as soon as I can. I want coffee. I don’t want breast cancer. Get me out of here!
Eventually my name is called and I steel myself for the … the …. I can’t even think of an erudite way to describe what is essentially a “boob squash”. It’s never fun, trying to get my little A/B-cups into those machines. The technician is kind and encouraging. I note the brand new machine is donated by Helen’s foundation. Following the mammogram, I find myself sitting opposite Helen’s photo. I send her a silent thank you. The squashing had really not been as bad this time.
Starting to relax, I feel ready to take on Helen and her photo. I approach it, to look more closely at her gentle, radiant face. You can see how much she loves her baby. She is like a stream of sunlight shining in to the cheerless lounge with its Jatz crackers and water cooler. I read the plaque under her photo. She died of breast cancer, aged 31, the mother of three children. Oh! Oh, I am really shocked. I didn’t really expect her to be so young. It’s not right.
I feel myself get angry then about how unfair it is. I’d known of course. No-one gets a Foundation in their name if they are off at Woolies doing the groceries, do they? But to read her story made me angry. I wanted to shout, “Why her? Why did this happen to her? She has children to care for!”
And yet, I didn’t want it to be me either, or anyone in that room. Somehow though, having Helen there comforted me. I know it sounds mad because I don’t even know her but I relaxed. The day began to lose some of its frustration for me. I decided to just roll with it. I was about to celebrate Christmas and thanks to Helen’s Foundation, I could have this fabulous screening and know with certainty that anything dodgy would be found quickly.
Later in the day, when I was called in to have a needle stuck into my boob, I thought of Helen and what she went through. I squeezed my little tummy roll and gritted my teeth and when the doctor called me later that night, to tell me my pathology was all clear, I thanked Helen again for keeping me company through it all.
To find out more about the Helen Hackett Foundation click here
Jen Williams is an L-plate writer studying journalism at QUT. You can follow her blog here or catch up with her on twitter @jenjwms