I well remember the week following my 50th birthday almost three years ago now, when my weirdest present dropped through the mailbox, a recording your poo through a spatula pressie; commonly known as a bowel cancer screening kit.. not the most delightful of pressies or functions but one which is extremely important none the less. I shall be 53 in August and have already enjoyed the poo on a spatula service twice now; a service I for one am extremely grateful for.. not because it has found anything, but equally because it has not.
Why am I telling you this? Well today I have just returned from my first ever mammogram; a service offered to women over the age of fifty through The NHS in the United Kingdom. I live in Orkney and as we don’t have our own breast screening facility we wait on the mobile unit to arrive, and arrive it has. It has been here a month already and shall stay for six months in total, offering the service to women over fifty. Please note that although women over the age of seventy are still welcome to go for screening every three years you are not automatically invited to do so, however you can make an appointment by phoning your local screening centre; the numbers are below. Even over seventy and well after the menopause you still remain at an increasing risk of developing breast cancer.
So how did I get on? And why am I sharing my experience here for all the world to see? Well like many women before me I received my appointment with trepidation and likewise this morning I felt a little nerves.. but nerves are natural. Especially in my family which has been touched by breast cancer no less than three times recently; resulting in two mastectomies and tragically the death of my like aged cousin who died on the 7th of May 2010 aged 44 years. So armed with this family history I took myself off to be screened.
When I arrived, for my extremely precise appointment of 11.51am, I was greeted with a calm and friendly nurse who invited me to take a seat. After a few minutes I was shown to a changing room to remove my upper underwear and replace my top; so for anybody worried about their modesty at this stage it is protected completely. Once called, and upon entering the extra room in the presence of a singular nurse, I did have to remove my top but I was made to feel very relaxed throughout the experience. Each breast is strategically placed on the equipment and compressed for the four x rays needed to fulfill the requirements needed for a thorough screening. Now I am not going to say it was not uncomfortable and to some likely a little sore but please believe me when I say, each time lasts for no more than a few seconds before the discomfort passes and the benefits of this discomfort far outways the consequence of breast cancer going undetected. The entire procedure lasted no more than three or four minutes; perhaps the most important three or four minutes of my life so far.
So whether you’re in Orkney or Oxgangs, Partick or Port Partick, Barra or Brora, young or old, don’t forget to check yourselves for lumps and bumps as screening in itself does not find all cancers. As women we are always good at reminding the men folks in our families to prod around their nether regions but we can be liable to forget to check ourselves. So why not set a day each week, or month and either check yourself, or if appropriate ask your partner to be on the lookout for any changes, as they can be more intimate with your anatomy than you are.
Taken from the NHS Breast screening booklet the advice given is as follows:
“Changes in your breasts (including the area up to your armpit) may be harmless, but you should get them checked straight away. You may need to look out for”:
- a lump, area of thickened tissue or bumps in either breast
- a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- skin that appears like orange peel
- crusting on or around the nipple
- a leaking nipple which may or may not be streaked with blood
- dimples or skin that’s become drawn in
- a nipple that has become turned in.
Whether it’s the bowel screening kit or an invite to a breast screening clinic that falls through your door, the short effort it takes to attend to these two services is minimal compared to the consequences of not doing so.
Scottish Breast Screening Centres
North of Scotland (Inverness) tel: 01463 705416
North East of Scotland (Aberdeen) tel: 01224 550570
West of Scotland (Glasgow) tel: 0141 800 8800 Textphone 0141 800 8858
South West of Scotland (Irvine) Tel: 01294 323505 or 323506 or 323507
East of Scotland (Dundee) Tel: 01382 425646
South East of Scotland (Edinburgh) Tel: 0131 537 7400
I call them Poo sticks! – after the game in Winnie the Poo.
As for breast-checking – every time I have a shower, I give my bosoms and under -arms a good old going-over – best done with the hand held flat, and pressing gently with the fingers.
A good thing to write about, Helen.