Thank you to everyone who reached out after my last blog post. Your kind words and encouragement really helped me through a terrifying time. I have had my emergency appointment and tests today, thankfully they didn’t find anything malignant.
Of course I am so relieved but I didn’t start writing about this for that reason. I hope by talking about things like cancer or invasive tests or specialist clinics may help people feel not so alone or scared to ask for help should they ever need it. So, here’s what happened to me today, my personal experience of the urgent 2 week wait breast cancer clinic appointment.
I had already spoken to someone at the clinic previously, as I had to call ahead and let them know I am a wheelchair user with mobility issues, so I knew roughly where to go upon my arrival. Everything was very organised with Covid distancing arranged in waiting areas and on seats. I gave my letter and details to reception and was told to take a space in the waiting area. My consultant was running a little late according to the screen information but I only had to wait about 20 minutes before being called in. My letter explained I could bring one person with me, there were signs in the waiting room asking for anyone accompanying a patient to wait outside if possible but Ray was able to come in with me being both my husband and my carer.
We met with the consultant in a calm-feeling clinic room. We chatted about the reasons for my referral and she asked me questions about my breast and family history. Next, I had to pop myself on to an adjustable bed, take my t-shirt and bra off and have a physical examination. There was no gown or cover. I don’t have any worries about intimate examinations, I’ve had two complicated pregnancies/births and lots of other examinations before but I can understand how sitting completely topless in front of a doctor you’ve never seen before could be extremely hard for some. She felt my chest on both sides laying down and sitting up, with raised arms and arms by my side. She felt around my torso, upper arms and armpits. She noted some thickening and swollen areas, and the blister I had taken antibiotics for. She talked me through feeling my lymph nodes and she was very gentle, stopping whenever I winced a little (as some points were a bit sore). When she was done, she asked me to put my clothes back on and explained she was going to send me down for an ultrasound scan. My letter stated I may have tests on the day so I was already half-expecting an ultrasound scan or a mammogram. Off to the radiology department I went!
Quick tip, if you’re not bothered about bra wearing, leave it off in between your consultation and scan, as you’ll only have to take it off again, which I personally find super awkward. I popped mine in my bag.
As this was an urgent appointment, any scans have to be squeezed in between booked radiology appointments, this is where the majority of the wait came from today. I waited about an hour and a half in radiology for my ultrasound in the end. It was a tense wait, hospitals are always hot and busy. There wasn’t much room to sit or wait due to Covid distancing measures. The other ladies I’d noticed up at the breast clinic and myself exchanged worried looks every now and again, whilst half listening for our names and watching Tipping Point on the waiting area TV. So much worry mixed with such a dose of normality felt quite surreal. Ray and I played Pokemon Go and joked with each other to pass the time.
My name was called and I was taken into the ultrasound room. The tech said she loved my wheelchair and shoes, which gave me a bit of a boost. Once again I was asked to lay on an adjustable bed and told the sonographer would be just a few moments. I was asked to take off my t-shirt and this time was given some large sheets of paper tissue for a bit of modesty. I laid down and the sonographer came in and introduced himself. He was male and I was ok with this. I am unsure if you’ve given the option to have a same sex sonographer if it is something that concerns you but the choice wasn’t offered to me today. He started by using a cold ultrasound gel on my breast and started scanning the area. The pressure used was firm but not extreme pressure like I’ve had when looking at my gall bladder, ovarian cysts or heart scans. He scanned all around my chest area and armpit, in a similar way to the physical exam I’d had earlier with the consultant. I could see the screen and during the process, the sonographer was suggesting things looked good. The scan was under 10 minutes long, when he had finished, I was given some tissue to wipe away the gel and asked to get dressed and return back to the breast clinic with a letter to hand to reception.
Back round the other side of the hospital and down a floor, I was once again in the breast clinic and had a short wait before being called back to see the original consultant. The first thing she said was the scans showed good news, there was no sign of anything malignant. The ultrasound picture was up on screen and she explained they looked for lumps, cysts and fissures but all was thankfully clear. She went on to diagnose me with Mastalgia (which she suspects is linked to hormones) alongside a breast infection. I have already been on a course of antibiotics for this and need to keep a close eye on the situation in case I need to go back and take another course, as the 7 days may not have been enough to fully clear the infection. The Mastalgia, the awful pain I have been feeling, can be eased with painkillers, an ibuprofen rub, support and waiting it out. I’m going to try taking evening primrose oil and focussing more on getting some good, healthy stuff into my diet.
I was given a diagnosis leaflet, asked to put another letter in to reception on the way out and was told to pop back to my GP if the infection isn’t going away or I have any other worries. I’m on their books now and can always be referred back with no problems.
So that’s it for now. I hope my experiences here with a fast track emergency breast cancer clinic appointment may help you or a loved one feel less alone if needed. I hope it can clarify some of the things that can happen in these appointments, where so often there is an air of unknown and embarrassed mystery surrounding breast care and cancer. I hope if you’re reading this experiencing symptoms and was scared like I was, that you can be brave and informed enough to ask for help. Reach out and get yourself checked, it’s so important.
Thank you again to everyone who read, commented and those who have reached out to me privately over the past few days, it really means a lot. I am so grateful I was able to receive a specialist appointment, scan and diagnosis within 9 days of that first terrified phone call to my GP.
Thank you NHS ❤