Friday, May 22, 2015

A Story About my Breasts

Thursday April 31, 2015

It’s been a little less than three weeks since I first noticed the changes in my breast, and with every day it occupies more and more of my life.

I had been changing in my upstairs bathroom, and as I lifted my left arm over my head to remove my nightee, I noticed the skin underneath my breast puckering, and pulling inwards as if something was preventing it from moving. There was no lump, no other changes. Except for the frequent dull ache that had plagued me for months? Weeks?

I simply observed it for the first few days. The puckering was only noticeable in the mornings, when the natural light came in through the bathroom window. When I showered at night and the room was lit from above, I couldn’t see the puckering.

And so it became part of my morning ritual. Was it still there? Was there a lump? Was the pain increasing? Every morning I would lift my arms and examine the bottom of my breast. And every day, with a sinking feeling in my stomach, the small hole would still be there.

I made an appointment with my GP for the first morning after school went back. It was less than a week after I first noticed the change and I felt nervous and ridiculous that I was making a fuss over nothing. I waited for her to tell me it was normal, nothing to worry about. Instead she wrote a referral for both a mammogram and ultrasound, with an option of fine needle aspiration (FNA) if required.

As I walked out of the room she smiled and said ‘I look forward to hearing that the results are nothing.’

I called my nearest radiological clinic early the next day and was told the wait for be up to four weeks. Four weeks and one day to be exact. I endeavoured to put it out of my mind. To wait the course. Four weeks feels like forever.

I have told no one except my best friend who lived on the other side of the country. I didn’t want to worry people. I didn’t want to be made a fuss of if it all turned out to me nothing. I didn’t want to be thought of as a hypochondriac.

Now it is all I can think about.

I can’t tell if thinking about my breast, and what the changes could mean has made me feel things that are not there, or if the pain is actually getting worse.  But it seems constant now, far from debilitating, but sufficient for me to consider taking a paracetamol. I am constantly touching my breast, both to ease the ache and to seek any forming lumps.

A couple times I have come close to mentioning it to someone. I worry about their reaction. I feel foolish for even worrying in the first place: am I ridiculous for even thinking the word?


There are many things it could be. It could be harmless fibroids or a long defunct blocked milk duct. It could have always been like that, and it just took me 37 years to notice.

So I am waiting.

But not patiently nor peacefully. It is beginning to preoccupy my thoughts, so I called more clinics until I could find one with an earlier time slot. I will now have to drive to the very northern suburbs for my scan, but I will save myself 10 days of worry.

But possibly, I will be gaining an extra ten days of something worse.

20th May 2015
I feel a bit stupid. A time waster, not to mention the hundreds of dollars I have spent.
I have now been for not one, but two ultrasounds on my breast and both times been sent away. 

‘There’s nothing there, on your way.’

The mammogram was uncomfortable and borderline painful, but it was a small price to pay. It’s a strange thing, standing half naked in front of a stranger, being asked to manipulate your own breast, having someone touch you. ‘Hold your nipple out of the way, that’s it, now pull everything to the side.’

I was sent out to wait while the doctor looked at my mammogram results. Wrapped in a cold cotton gown, that barely stretched around me, I read trashy magazines. Then I was asked to come back for more scans. I felt even more nervous this time – had they seen something and they wanted a better look? No, sometimes the breast tissue fold over on itself, I was told, making it appear thicker than it really is. Back into the machine, a sharp corner pushed into my armpit, hand grasping the machine, angled sideways as to get as much breast into the machine as possible.

I was then sent for the ultrasound. Neither technique is 100% fallible, but when done together, anything over 1mm will be picked up. They poked and prodded and scanned and peered. Nothing. 

‘Go home,’ I was told, and I scurried away.

But still my doctor wasn’t happy. ‘I don’t know Shannon,’ she said. ‘I want to know what’s causing the puckering. I think you should get the FNA done as well.’ She glanced at my three year old on the floor, sucking on a lollypop – her reward for a flu vaccination. ‘You need to be around, you know what I mean?’

Not wanting to return to the first place, where I had been merrily sent on my way, I called a different group. No three week wait this time, I got an appointment within 24 hours. That was more like it.

The sonographer was surprised when I told her I had already been for a mammogram and ultrasound. 
‘And they didn’t find anything?’

‘No,’ I responded.

‘No lumps?’


‘And so you’re here because…?’

I’m here because my aunt had breast cancer when she was younger. I’m here because my breast looks abnormal. I’m here because I have a cautious GP with children the same age as mine and who is looking out for me.

The sonographer called the doctor in. Everyone was being very nice. They looked sympathetic and were understanding of my predicament, but they couldn’t see why I was there. Literally. With the dark shadowy rooms and overhead lighting, the doctor could not see the deep puckering which was so apparent in the sideways light of my bathroom. I felt like a fraud and that I was wasting everyone’s time.

‘If that were my breast, I’d be happy with that,’ the lady told me.

‘Without a lump or something to aim at, I don’t know where to put the needle,’ the doctor said reasonably. ‘And in the unlikely event something came back abnormal, we wouldn’t be able to do a re-test because there’s nothing to see or feel.’

I lay on the table, clutching the gown around me. I understood everything they were saying, which was basically ‘you’re fine, go home.’

It is the best possible outcome. Two of the best doctors in the state have reassured me there is nothing abnormal to see on the scans. Nothing to fear. No cancer. I should be elated and relieved, and most of me is.

Although I still don’t have an explanation for the pain or the puckering, and a small part of me is still worried, I am grateful I can move on. I am also indebted to my friend whose own story has reminded me to be breast aware, and now I share mine in the hope that maybe someone else might benefit.. 

This post is dedicated to all the women who are living with and fighting breast cancer. 
You are in my thoughts.

To everyone else: please remember to be breast aware.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Kids Say The Darndest Things...

One from the vaults when the Bombshell was four.

In 1637 René Descartes made his brilliant statement ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ or ‘I think, therefore I am’.  He was 41 and already a noted philosopher and mathematician.
In 2011, the Blonde Bombshell, made her brilliant statement ‘I think, so it is’. She is four. 
Of course, when Descartes made his profound statement he was talking about existentialism, and when the Bombshell made her statement she was talking about it being Tuesday when it was really Monday, but who’s nit-picking? 

Who’s to say that I don’t have a budding philosopher in the family? If she wanted it to be Tuesday, then it should be Tuesday, and too bad if the rest of the world thought it should be Monday. What’s 24 hours between friends?
There is a certain honesty in the words and beliefs of children.  They speak without worrying about social niceties (‘I did two poos and one is floating like a boat’), political correctness (‘I like your bottom Mummy, it has hair on it’) or the laws of nature (Mum: ‘how much yoghurt do you want?’ Bombshell: ‘27 minutes please’).
When children speak, they say it like it is: ‘Some cars are clean and some are dirty. Daddy’s car is dirty.  Adi’s car is clean.  Grandad’s car has a little bit of poo’.  

They conversationally tread where no adult would dare, though secretly many of us would probably love to. They have no concept of self-censorship or self-preservation (‘Mum: ‘why is your sister crying?’ Bombshell: ‘because I hurt her fingers’).
The things my daughter tells me are the highlights of my day.  I write them down and make them real, before they disappear into a forgotten memory of something she said once that made me smile… now what did she say? It’s on the tip of my tongue. I can’t remember…
I love that everything is so literal when you are four years old. Words do not have hidden meaning, children hear what is familiar. My daughters and I were walking past a neighbour’s garden, which had a prolific flowering tree. ‘Look at that pretty pink flower,’ the Bombshell said.  I replied, ‘do you know what that is? That’s called a hibiscus.’  The Bombshell then said ‘Hi Biscus, my name is ... and this is my sister’
Similarly, there is a certain logic that is applicable only to small children. Things are taken at face value, even abstract ideas.  At three and a half the Bombshell was struggling to deal with her tantrums and we were taking the approach that if I gave her a big cuddle we could squeeze out her anger and throw it in the bin.  Sometimes this worked, other times it didn’t.  

One day after a particularly drawn out tantrum and some attempting squeezing, she told me ‘I need my anger back because I’m having a tanty.’ 

I let her have her anger back and said ‘do you still want vegemite crackers?’ 

‘Yes,’ she said.  ‘Yes please,’ I corrected. She shook her head, ‘I don’t say yes please because I’m having a tantrum.’
Perhaps though what is most precious about the words of children is their unrelenting love and devotion.  They are blind to shape and size and fashion and their mum is the most beautiful mum, even when she is wearing old tracksuit pants 

Bombshell: why are you lying down Mum?’ 

Mum: ‘because I’m old and fat and tired’ 

Bombshell: ‘you’re not that bad.
Eventually our children grow up, and their words will be tempered with flattery and hidden meanings and political correctness and all the other filters adults forget they use.  

But while they are little, we should cherish their clarity of thought, because as the Bombshell so simply puts it: ‘I make you happy Mum.’

Sunday, May 10, 2015

In Bed With Mia



It is the early morning call of the native species Three-Year-Oldus-Crazy-Makus. She has woken and now needs an adult to come in and release her from her squishy puddle of doonas and toys and pillow pets.

I open the door and a streak of light falls across her low bed. Her little face glows like the moon and it breaks into a smile.

‘Watch you doin’?’ she asks. She reminds me of Gary Coleman in Diff’rent Strokes. I keep my observation to myself. It’s unlikely she will ever get the joke.

‘I want a cuddle,’ I tell her as I climb into her bed and pull the doonas over us.

‘Me too,’ she replies and curls her chubby little arm around my neck.

We lie in silence watching each other in the dim light.

‘I need tissue,’ she whispers.

So I haul myself out of her bed, blindly reaching out on the bookshelf for the tissue box. I am knocking small toys and random objects off the shelf as I fumble in the dark.

Finding the box I crawl back into her bed and hand her a tissue. She expertly blows her nose before handing it back to me. ‘Here Mum,’ she says. Like the servant I am.

A little finger makes its way into her nose and she extracts something. She peers at it in the dark for a moment before pointing the finger – and booger – in my direction. ‘Here Mum,’ she says. I ignore the finger.

The house is quiet at this time of the morning. It’s still dark outside and it’s warm in her bed, although she smells faintly of pee. It’s a smell you get used to. I wish I didn’t have to admit that.

She puts her arm around me and moves her little face towards mine. She bumps her nose against mine then kisses me. Once. Twice.

‘You smell like wee,’ I say to her. Not unkindly.

‘No I don’t,’ she replies indignantly.

‘Well, it’s not me who smells like wee,’ I say.

‘It is. It is you,’ she says gravely.

I smile at her and her beautiful face erupts like the dawns. I still find it difficult to fathom how much joy this little child both contains and emanates. She is like the sun, radiating smiles, warming hearts. 

She waves at everyone and sees everything. ‘Hello,’ she will say to the man emptying rubbish bins as we walk to daycare. ‘Goodbye’ she will wave to the teenaged students as they hurry home, weighed down with books. Her smiles spread across their faces.

‘Put light Mum,’ she asks me, so I climb out of bed and flick on the little lamp. She reaches for a plastic violin bow and starts pointing at the alphabet quilt on the wall. I think she is pretending to play X for Xylophone but she huffs at me. ‘No! A C,’ she demands.

I use the bow to point to the letters as we make our way through the alphabet. She repeats them after me, only coming unstuck on ‘U’ for Umbrella.

‘U’ I say.

‘Me,’ she replies.

‘You,’ I say and bend down for a hug. She expertly grips on and as I stand I have no choice but to bring her up with me. She is a baby koala, and will latch on regardless of whether I hold her or not.

‘You best my friend Mum’ she says.

‘I love you too,’ I tell her.

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