I thought it might be useful to share my thoughts on what to expect from a NHS Breast Screening appointment and a bit of my personal experiences. When I was thirty-nine I was in the middle of a painful divorce, and living in a shared house with work friends. I wasn’t in a very good place mentally and then one day I found a lump. A lump on the side of my breast, and I felt as if my whole world was totally crumbling around me. I went to the doctors, he seemed fairly positive that it wasn’t something sinister but referred me directly to a local hospital for further tests. It was all a blur, now I can’t tell which breast it was, I’m thinking my left, but I can’t truly remember.
I arrived at the hospital and was booking in at their Breast Cancer clinic. I remember the waiting room feeling like a large conservatory, light, lots of glass and roomy. Not your typical hospital waiting room. I remember looking around me and seeing women of all ages, and I mean all ages. I was shocked and scared. Really scared. I’d taken a book with me to read whilst I was waiting, that was totally pointless.
I can’t remember the order in which things happened now. As I said above, it’s all such a blur now. I know I was examined, I’m presuming that happened first. I went for a mammogram, it hurt. I have no boobs, what I did have was squashed and it was uncomfortable. A needle was put in the lump and the fluid (I’m presuming) was tested. It was a cyst, there was nothing to worry about. Being told that, was like winning the lottery. Parts of my world were falling apart, my body was telling me to take a break, but I didn’t have cancer. I was lucky, so much luckier than some of the women that I’d been sitting with in that waiting room.
So roll on ten years and I was having my routine NHS smear test, and I asked the nurse when I would start to have my boobs checked. She told me I’d be invited to a screening after my fiftieth birthday had passed. It wouldn’t be at one of the hospitals but would be in the mobile screening unit that tours the areas, so I’d get to have an appointment in the town I live in, so much more convenient. I don’t know if that’s the case in all NHS Trusts, but it’s certainly the case for me in north Oxfordshire.
I was fifty in April 2018 and just after Christmas I received an invitation letter along with some information on what to expect from a NHS Breast Screening appointment. The letter advises that the appointment takes no more than 30 minutes and to arrive having not used deodorant or talk that day.
The letter also advised that no parking was available on site, and although the unit would be parked close to my own doctors surgery, there was a high risk I’d get a parking ticket if I parked there. So I decided to park in the car park in town and walk down to the unit. As my appointment was fairly close to school pick up time I’d arranged for a friend to have my son after school in case appointments were running over.
The mobile screening unit really is a bit like a portacabin. But not cold (thankfully, as it was freezing on Thursday last week). You will need to turn off your mobile phone before entering the unit via some steps. There’s a small reception desk where you confirm your personal details and I was asked if I’d been for a screen before. I was then led to a side cubicle with a long curtain screen on one side and a door which obviously led through to the x-ray room on the other side. There was a seat and I was asked to remove my top and bra and would be called through for my appointment in a couple of minutes.
So I sat with my coat over me and within a minute I was called through. I could leave my clothes in the cubicle and just bring my bag with me, which I could leave on a chair.
The breast screening process itself involves four different screens, two of each breast. The screening lady helped to position me correctly for each screening shot and then my breast would be squashed between two parts of the equipment, the operator would move away and the x-ray would be taken.
She’d asked me about my previous history and I’d mentioned that all I’d really remembered was it being uncomfortable. We laughed as she told me that as I was now older it would be less uncomfortable as my skin wasn’t so firm (politely telling me I was getting saggy). She was right. It was nowhere near as uncomfortable as I’d envisaged. I did hold my breath every time, but actually I thought it was much more comfortable and dignified than a smear test, and I don’t have an issue with having that done either.
In my mind, if either screening could help pick up any issues and ultimately save my life, then why on earth would I worry about a few seconds of discomfort. Because that’s all it is. Four x-rays later and she handed me another information leaflet and I was free to put my bra and top back on and go.
What happens next? Well I should get the results of my mammogram in the post within two-three weeks. Should a further screening be required I will receive that appointment letter at the same time. All being well I will then be due for another check-up in three years time.
So there you have it, what to expect from a NHS Breast Screening appointment. Now of course, it’s still important to check your breasts yourself regularly. But please, if you’re eligible and receive an appointment, go. It’s a few minutes out of your day, but could save your life. It might be a tad uncomfortable, but compared to what you might have to go through with cancer treatment, it’s nothing. Go!
I’d love to hear about your experiences if you feel able to share them.