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Keeping Abreast Of Things...

Yesterday was all about facing fears for me. To be honest, I am more a stick-my-head-in-the-sand kind of person as opposed to let's-bloody-well-face-this-thing-head-on kind of person, so when my GP suggested I get a mammogram, I felt my stomach go into knots. There wasn't anything MAJORLY wrong with me - just swollen and painful glands under my arms that weren't linked to any noticeable infection, but sore enough to pop a few Myprodols every now and then.

There was also random pain in my chest - short sharp stabbing pains that came as soon as they went. But knowing my body and how hormones can affect it in the strangest ways, I put it down to an anomaly. The glands under my arms, on the other hand, were painful and annoying. Like when you put deodorant on after shaving and it stings? Like that, but deeper.

My GP didn't seem overly concerned. He ran some tests that all came back clear - but I was still sore. And starting to get a little worried. So, he suggested a mammogram to rule out anything sinister. Apparently our lymphatic system acts like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up all the nasties in our body. So when certain glands are inflamed, you need to check them out. And because of their proximity to my chest and the fact that they can be a red flag for something bigger, you need to rule out all the obvious options.

So I booked an appointment for my first ever mammogram - two weeks away. And then somehow lost my ability to sleep at night.

You see, in the last few months, I have attended the funeral of a close family friend who died of breast cancer - an amazing woman with a zest for life and so much to live for. Stephen and I have also watched someone we love more than life itself go through 6 months of difficult chemo - knowing he would be absolutely fine at the end, but so wishing he didn't have to go through this journey to get well. And a close friend is helping a young mom through advanced stages of breast cancer who is fighting so hard to beat it. And while I KNEW I was fine - it was just a little too close to home to have to go for a mammogram at the recommendation of my GP.

It was a long wait - I won't lie to you. I didn't share it with anyone other than Stephen and my older (thinner and more beautiful) sister. We spoke about how we take our health for granted - and feel so incredibly fragile at the thought of something going wrong. We spoke about how mothers, in particular, would rather chop their own arm off and feed it to wolves rather than cause their children a MOMENT'S worry that they might not be around forever. And how we owe it to THEM (and to ourselves) to try spot these things before they become big health issues.

And so I went for my first mammogram yesterday. And I was given the all-clear - as I knew I would, but still that little part of me that whispered "what if you're NOT fine?" in the cold dark hours in the middle of the night had scared me enough that I cried the whole way home. I cried for how scared I actually was (even though it seems quite silly now that I write it), I cried for all those women that are NOT given the all-clear and have to navigate such a difficult path going forwards, and I cried when I heard the enormous relief in Stephen's voice that told me just how worried he had been. And I vowed to make these check-ups more of a priority so that if anything IS wrong, we find it early.

That's where YOU come in. If you haven't yet been for a mammogram, or to get that mole checked, or chatted to your GP about something that is niggling at the back of your mind, please do it. Do it now. The energy it takes to push those fears away is enormous - and it's almost a relief to face up to them. And when I experienced first-hand how quick and easy a mammogram is, I can't believe I have put it off for so long. It was not in the least bit painful - four photos (two from the top and two from the side) that take under 5 minutes. Followed by a 5-minute ultrasound with the doctor, who will then give you the results immediately.

My grandmother always used to say "A stitch in time saves nine" - which is probably why her breast cancer was discovered early enough for her to need surgery but no chemo. And I am only now realizing the wisdom in her words! 

So that's my message to you today. You can do it. You can make that appointment that scares you. You can do the hard stuff.

PS I went to the Bone & Breast Care Centre in Illovo. Johannesburg (011 268 0199). 

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