Women aged 50-70 are invited for screening every three years, and some women aged 47-49 are invited as part of a study of screening older and younger women. I am an atypical subject for such a study, but, well, why not?
That was what the letter said, though the leaflet says something different: from 2012 the screening programme will be extended to women 47-73, this was decided in 2007 and is now being rolled out. Whatever.
How do I feel about medics touching me? My GP, who has a lovely manner, offered to show me how to examine myself, and I fled: the thought of taking my top off and being touched upset me. I stiffened- if she had touched my clothed arm it would have bothered me.
In 2003 Tim, my friendly Endocrinologist, referred me to a gynaecologist whom I saw three times. He was really really lovely. Just nice. I told him how uncomfortable and difficult I found dilation, and wept. I wanted to talk without crying but could not: I could get the words out if I sobbed in between. Then crying opened me: I could feel my hurt and talk, and he was gentle and understanding.
I saw a surgeon when I was considering implants. I thought I could just be examined, but felt shy when it came to it. He offered a female chaperone, and though I had thought I would not need this, I was glad of it. Sitting with my top off- I can’t respond quite as rationally as I might otherwise.
I cycled a mile to the mobile trailer at the outpatients’ clinic. A woman entered me on the system: hello, how are you? How are you? Oh, not many ladies ask that, I’m fine, she said. I sit in a cubicle where I was invited to take off my bra- indeed I would not like a communal waiting space. There are old magazines.
I go into the end room where the Mammographer asks me to take off my top, and shows me the machine. I remember Josie telling how her breast was squeezed between two cold metal plates- but that was last century, this machine uses plastic. Without intending, I go into a half-trance, so that she can place me as she wishes. I go quite passive. I do not want to make eye contact. She takes some time arranging me just so- it is worse, she says, when people try to cooperate. It pinches. It is uncomfortable, though no worse than seeing the dentist. I will get results, she says, in two weeks.
Some women will have treatment for a condition which would never have caused them problems. 3% of women will have the serious worry of needing further tests, but not needing treatment. Lives get saved by early diagnosis.
I asked if she could show me how to examine myself, but she is not trained to do so. I should ask my GP’s practice nurse. What a job, doing that all day.