The Day My Boobs Became Important

Yesterday I spent about five hours undergoing tests in the BreastScreen Clinic at the Royal Hospital For Women in Sydney.

This all came after a first -- and routine -- mammogram picked up something unusual in my left breast.

Not the author. Image: Getty

A month ago, my boobs were simply there as decoration. I am not a mother or a porn star so they don't have a job as such. I guess their job was to be healthy, to look good in a bikini top, and in some ways to attract a mate (hello Hubbie!). To be brutally -- and oversharingly -- honest, I have never loved them, they're too unwieldly (if indeed one should wield them).

But after the mammogram -- which hurt more than I thought it would, it has to be said -- I got a letter in the mail asking me to go in for further tests. And my boobs suddenly became important to me.

Let me just say right now -- no, I don't have breast cancer and I don't want to make light of it, nor do I want it to seem like I'm writing this to give an impression I know how it would feel. But for a few weeks there I did wonder. And wondered how I could deal with it changing my life.

I have never been really ill. I've had one operation in my whole life -- to remove fibroids -- and my only experience of cancer was the illness and subsequent death of my father from bowel cancer.

Which informed my thinking, obviously.

Still, I tried not to worry. I had never felt a lump or bump. My family has no history of breast cancer. Heart issues, yes, and bowel cancer now, but nothing boob-related.  But now I was feeling pains periodically, and I was conscious of any itch, pang or pucker like never before.

Roll on yesterday and I was making sure I was wearing matching bra and undies like I was going on a date or about to get run over a bus.

Once I got to the BreastScreen NSW clinic in the Royal Hospital For Women, I was ushered into the waiting room where about six other women were sitting, dressed in robes. It was a little like a day spa. Except instead of a lovely massage and sauna, we were all getting mammograms and ultra sounds (and then, if needed, biopsies). The staff were amazing -- comforting, unflustered, all of the things they should be. There was lunch.

Not actual lunch. Image: Getty

The second mammogram was far worse than the first. My poor left breast -- the one that had caused it the problems, thanks to some "areas of concern" high up sort of around the left pec -- was squished and squashed into the machine like it was a half-deflated balloon being forced into the bin.

Not the author either. Image: Getty

Worse, my arms were pulled and twisted and my head and neck were stretched into weird positions as those puppies refused to behave properly. My makeup ended up mostly on the machine. My dignity was elsewhere.

But we got there. And the women who were performing these tests were incredible. Patient. Professional. Contortionists.

After another hour or so of waiting in my robe, I was called in to meet the radiologist for an ultra sound and it was only really now I worried she had found something. Her probing seemed to be all in the one spot -- the "area" -- and for some reason, the feel of her machine on my skin was making me want to vomit, and I could feel the colour draining from my face, as a rising feeling of panic started...

And then she said. "Nope, all good. You're fine to go home and we will send you a reminder in two years." I really could have kissed her. Except I don't think that would be appropriate.

So. No -- I don't have breast cancer, and I can't begin to know what it DOES feel like to be given that diagnosis.

But I can tell you that mammograms are kind of what you think they'll be. A bit painful at times, a bit awkward and embarrassing. Difficult to manoeuvre into.

But don't be scared of them.  They actually save lives. And these women won't stop looking at your boobs until they're happy they've saved yours.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer remains the most common cancer among Australian women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer). Survival rates continue to improve in Australia with 89 out of every 100 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer now surviving five or more years beyond diagnosis. Go to www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-awareness-month,  for more information.

Feature Image: Getty