Guest post by Maria F.
You know how they say that, once you’ve reached a certain age, you should have a mammography every two years? At least that is the standing recommendation in Germany, and it is also what health insurance will pay for, no questions asked.
Well, when I was 50, I got the invitation alright, but it was for a gynecologist’s practice in Bavaria, and reached me when I had already returned to Düsseldorf. I meant to reschedule the appointment for my next visit to Bavaria, where my parents live, but couldn’t reach anyone on the phone right away, and so the invitation letter got covered by other important stuff in my stack of things to do and I forgot about it.
A year later, I got another invitation. And this time, I was in Bavaria for the appointment they had scheduled for me, and decided to go there, too. After all, I am receiving some disease modifying drugs for my MS that have immunosuppressive properties. That is the reason why you need lots of vaccinations before even starting with these drugs, and it is also the reason why you should take your cancer screenings seriously.
I never thought anything would result from it, but I decided to have the mammography. The only reason was that I thought, if I don’t get this screening, and then later, I notice I have cancer, I’d be rather annoyed with myself for that.
A mammography is no spa treatment, but it is also nothing to be feared. You uncover your chest, stand close the machine, and they press your breast between two plates and take an x-ray picture of it. In my case, „they“ was just one woman, and she had probably done it a thousand times. It was nothing to feel bad about, and also, it didn’t hurt.
When I was back in Düsseldorf two or three weeks later, I had a routine visit to my gynecologist. She also palpated my breasts before I could even think to mention that it wasn’t actually necessary since I’d had a mammography taken. She was very quick, professional, and I trust her, but still, she didn’t feel anything. I have taken up the habit of palpating my breasts once a month, too. And I hadn’t felt anything, either.
Then, I got the letter. Which was first sent to my parents’ address, and they forwarded it to me. I was like, “Oh, yeah, that old letter from the mammography center. It’s going to say that they found nothing, and then I have to file it away and can forget about it.“ Only it didn’t. It said that three different doctors had looked at my pictures, and they were not quite sure about what it was they were seeing, because it was very small, but they all thought that it should be followed up and I should see a breast specialist.
So, I asked the doctors in Bavaria to mail me the CD with my pictures and secured an appointment with my gynecologist within the week. She then gave me a special phone number that directly connected me to a senologist (breast doctor) who I was able to see later that same week. After reading the letter and taking a look at the CD, the senologist suggested an ultrasound of my breasts. As it’s a painless procedure, of course I agreed. And there, I could see it myself. A little blob in the very center of my left breast that was definitely not supposed to be there. All in all, only a month had passed since the mammography, where three doctors had not yet been quite that sure of what it was they were seeing, and this ultrasound which left no doubts that there was something that wasn’t supposed to be there. Only it was hiding in the very middle of my breast, which is why we hadn’t been able to feel it.
The next step was a biopsy. A harmless little word for a nasty procedure. It means that they need a little piece of whatever they want to investigate. The standard procedure nowadays is a punch biopsy. So, the breast doctor took a syringe and told me to relax, she was going to numb the area, just like the dentist would. I cannot say I was particularly relaxed. The injection didn’t actually hurt, but it did remind me of a visit to the dentist alright. They waited for a minute, then the doctor used the automatic needle. She looked at the ultrasound of my breast on the screen and pressed a button, and within a split second, the needle punctured a hole into my breast with a loud clacking sound. The doctor was not yet satisfied with the result and pushed the button again. Then, it was done.
She retracted the needle, and the assistant bandaged my breasts tightly. I was told to leave the bandage on until the next day, and then cut it open and discard it.
I was worried that the pain might come later, when the „dentist’s“ injection had worn off and asked the doctor whether I could take any of the Ibuprofen pain medication I had at home when that happened. She said, yes, I could. But I never needed it. It was a bit of a nasty procedure but there was no pain.
That was on Friday, the 13th. I got my results on Monday, the 16th, in the afternoon. The doctor called me and told me that, yes, it was not harmless, but slow-growing breast cancer. She told me to come on the next day, to schedule surgery. I will tell you about how that went later because I am a lazy person and do things by little bits.