There’s nothing quite like sitting in a room full of anxious women pretending to be nonchalant.
As I begin to type this newsletter, I’m doing just that. It's not so hard for me, the pretending. I’ve had a lifetime of practice disguising my anxiety. You can read about that here.
Around me this morning are about a dozen women, all of us waiting to go in for mammograms and ultrasounds. Some, like me, are there for regular standard checks. Others, I assume, are facing the particular terror of having found lumps or noticed irregularities. I’ve been there. On those occasions, I’ve sat here with fear gripping my throat.
Today we all sit here quietly, waiting for our names to be called, with the spectre of breast cancer hanging heavily over our heads. The many, many women we all know who have sat in waiting rooms just like this only to hear bad news. Celebrities. Friends. Mothers. Aunts. Acquaintances. Grandmothers. Fellow school mums. Neighbours. Sisters.
Sometimes it feels like breast cancer is an epidemic.
We’re all in our 40s in the waiting room this morning. One woman knits. Another reads a magazine. One has brought in some work and taps diligently away at her laptop while the rest of us peer at our phones with distracted urgency. It’s 8:45am.
There are tea and coffee facilities and Tina Arena sings “I’m in chains” softly through the speaker system. It’s a nice place as waiting rooms go but nobody wants to be here.
I have a weird relationship with medical tests. I sort of love having them even though the lead-up and the tests themselves make me unbearably anxious. I love the heady flush of relief I get afterwards - assuming all is well. Like the endorphins after exercise. Hate the exercise itself. Love the aftermath buzz.
And so it is.
I’ve been to this clinic once before. My friend works here although I’m not seeing her because that might be weird, her feeling my boobs. I have a mammogram and ultrasound each year. I’ve been doing this since I was about 37 when a doctor doing a routine breast check after my pap smear found a lump that worried her and sent me away for further testing.
It turned out to be……my rib.
I have a new GP now.
But still, I got into the habit of having regular mammograms and I just kept going.
Mammograms aren’t fun in the same way that pap smears aren’t fun. Awkward small-talk.A bit uncomfortable. But they’re necessary.
My name is called and I have my mammogram. Then I wait to see the doctor for the results (at this clinic you stay for a few hours and it all happens in one go instead of the results being sent to your GP). “All good” she says. First hurdle cleared.
I then strip off again and she does the physical exam. She must do this dozens of times a day, hundreds of times a week. We chat about this and that as she's feeling my boobs and her tone never varies but I notice something about her movements change when she gets to an area underneath my nipple. Chat chat chat but I feel sick.