Tag Archives: mammograms

16 April 2009: Chemo #2

I thought I’d be calmer for the second chemo treatment, which was obviously a gross miscalculation of my character. Upon arrival I was handed a sheet with a mammogram request on it; notes dated 26 March stated: ‘suspicious lesions on L. side.’ None of the nurses or reception staff were able to inform me what this document was and why I’d not been told about it. The first nurse directed me to Radiology rather than Breast Screening. Once at Breast Screening, the reception staff (the school-leaver and the imposing woman with painted eyebrows) tried to tell me I would not be allowed to have the test because I am under 34 — ie, “too young for mammograms.”

I’m too young for cancer. What do you think of that?

New staff every time. More waiting this time, and a new chemo nurse too, who–surpirse!–informed me that from now on, there would be no bed–and no guests. So I sat in the row of old women while she repeatedly failed to find a vein, eventually breaking into tears when the thing slipped began painfully swelling up my whole arm–then the nurse said “Oh shit” and left without explanation. K. was not at all surprised to fine me curtained off in the corner upon his return.

“They had to move me,” I told him groggily, by then under the influence of the anti-anxiety medication. “I made a scene.”

Despite the trauma of the Charing Cross East Bloc Hospital experience, I feel better this time in the aftermath. Not having vomited was even a bit of a disappointment. They gave me anti-emetics this time, and I’m sure my new living environment–green space, a bathtub, a bed I don’t need to climb into with a utility ladder–contributes.

I’m scared more and more. Reading the pamphets and the websites and the statistics terrifies me. “Younger Women and Breast Cancer”: cancer is more aggressive and tends to be less responsive to treatment. There is no “treating” this disease, this wrongness in my body. Even if and while I live, I will always be living with it. Somewhere. This terrifying thing, genetic hatefulness.

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Jade Goody & the mythology of redemption: the spectre of cancer in the media

Jade Goody–the Big Brother reality television “star”-cum-cancer martyr–died the day before I started my own chemotherapy. I remember standing on the platform at the Royal Oak train station, waiting to go to the hospital for my first chemo treatment, looking at everybody’s greedily-grabbed copies of the Metro and the London Lite; even in the “real” papers, Jade Goody was the front-page news (alongside findings of a recently-published study, coincidence or no, about the non-improvement of cancer survival rates in the UK).

 I don’t know how large the storm surrounding this woman was in the American media, but in England she was as ubiquitous as Big Brother himself: first for the car-crash entertainment value of her all-around ignorance and repugnance, with the cherry-on-top of racist allegations–and then for the car-crash entertainment value of her stage 4 cervical cancer, and society’s ensuing Schadenfreude at observing her decline, glued to the television with eyes wide.

She made a mint out of that damn cancer, and, maybe even more sickeningly, seemingly won everybody’s sympathy from the media exploitation of her sickness –from her showstoppin’ Cancer Special, to her eight-weeks-to-live “fairy-tale” white(trash) wedding, to which she sold the rights to Ok! magazine for £700,000. (A  few months after Goody’s death, her previously-incarcerated Prince Charming was arrested yet again for an alleged sexual assault on a teenager. This may want to be excluded from the Disney version of the Jade Goody Story).

The debate raged as to whether Jade, being dumb as pig shit, was the victim of the media’s agressive manipulation of her, or whether Jade, being an unscrupulous media whore, was in fact the one doing the manipulating of her audiences. But whoever was pulling the strings, the result was the same–as her Guardian obituary put it:

The pig who deserved burning had become our sacrificial lamb, garnished with sentiment. Britain had turned 180 degrees to embrace a woman it had earlier scorned. Symbolically, at least, it was the right time for Goody to die.

–what someone on the BBC referred to, as I listened to Radio 4 while waiting for my chemo, as “the mythology of redemption.” Continue reading

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Knock knock. Mammogram.

This morning I had a mammogram.

I thought — the last time I did this, I had two breasts.

I had an ultrasound as well, which resulted in a pseudo-PTSD flashback of the first time I had to have a breast ultrasound, shortly before the needle biopsy left me bruised and and bleeding and crying, riding home alone on the Tube, shocked and dazed and terrified.

Today, the doctor opens with, “I don’t want to scare you, but…” 

and ends with, “I’m sorry. You’re too young for this.”

The recommended course of action, apparently, is a screening every six months, alternating mammograms with MRIs. These tests are so panic-inducing, I’m not really sure I’m down with that.

Remember that old Saturday Night Live Land Shark sketch? The Jaws spoof with the shark knocking on the door: “Candygram.”

That’s what I feel like whenever I hear the m-word. That something sinister is lurking on the other side of the door.

 Knock knock. Mammogram.

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Paging Dr. Wilson

Dr. Wilson, you are needed in the real world.

If you saw this week’s episode of House, then you know what I’m on about.

If you don’t, here’s a quick spoiler (because this show is so very unpredictable).

This week Dr. Wilson, the oncologist:

1.) diagnoses cancer recurrence in the lung of a lymphoma patient, tipped off by the fact that the old man seems mildy depressed. Wilson quickly eliminates it, somehow, and sends the man smilingly on his way, and

2.) treats cancer recurrence in the brain of an ex-leukemia patient he’s befriended with extra high dose chemo, which cures the cancer overnight but subsequently destroys the dude’s liver, at which point Dr. W donates a piece of his own liver to save the patient’s life.

Umhello. I’m depressed, also have inexplicable headaches, chronic leg pain…and a mammogram from nine months ago that turned up “suspicious lesions.” I can’t even get an appointment. The only reason I am finally having the damn mammogram re-done–those dumb things I’m supposedly to have every six months–is because my mother is the personal friend of a well-connected OB/GYN.

Dr. Wilson: Why did you make me head of oncology?

 Dr. Cuddy: Because you’re caring…

Would this exchange occur in any hospital in the world outside of prime-time television?

I liked my oncologist in London when I first met him. He was relaxed, calm, reassuring. Eventually I realized that he was so laissez-faire not because there was nothing to worry about, but because what happened to me didn’t matter to him.

 I saw him twice throughout the whole course of my treatment. I don’t think I’ll be hitting him up for a liver.

Shoot, baby, were the world like it is on television, and you could solve all my problems in forty-five minutes, and look damn cute doin it.

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And by ‘anxiety,’ we mean ‘expense.’

In case you missed the controversy sparked yesterday by the “government task force” (can anything sound more Orwellian? who are these people?) over new mammography guidelines, and let’s be honest, I doubt you did: women should start having mammograms at 50, not 40,  and every other year, to reduce ‘anxiety.’ Because the aforementioned anxiety, the possibility of ‘unnecessary biopsies’ &c., for the majority who will not be diagnosed with cancer outweighs the inconvenience of death for the few people who will.

Now, I too can dig my John Stuart Mill, but that sounds like some crazy utilitarian bullshit to me.

 And oh, also, breast self-exams are useless and should not be encouraged.

The age debate got me thinking about the mammograms I had done of my left breast, the ones with USLs: unidentified suspicious lesions (still unidentified and suspicious as of this posting). When I handed my file, with an oncologist-ordered mammogram, over to the lady behind the desk of the breast screening department at Charing Cross, she said:

“You can’t have a mammogram because you’re under thirty-five.”

And I stared at her, bald and incredulous. And I wanted to say:

“Can you apply that logic to the cancer in there?”

Three times in the past couple of weeks I have been asked my age, and each time I hesitated. I honestly couldn’t say. Saying “twenty-five” seemed absurd. Because whatever it is you associate with being twenty-five–like having the rest of your life ahead of you, when “the rest of your life” is something long and non-hypothetical–that’s not what I am.

I remember discussing immortality in sixth grade. The teacher asked us, a group of 12-year-olds, what would be the perfect age to spend eternity as.

For some reason, the class consensus was 25.

I wonder what seemed so magical about it. Myself, I’d chosen 10. Maybe even then I had a premonition. Or maybe I was just a strange, precocious pubescent, already nostalgic for my youth.

Something else that is strange. During my last checkup, the nurse asked about my Tamoxifen side effects in near baby-talk: “Are you having little hot flashes or anything?”

I’m tired of having my cancer cute-ified because of my age. I’m terrified by what the chemotherapy and the Tamoxifen have done to my body. I hate that I’ve gone through menopause in my twenties. I hate that I haven’t had a period since July, maybe earlier. I’m worried that I’ll never have one again.

 And there’s nothing “little” about my flashes, lady.

Re: mammograms, The American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are sticking to the earlier recommendation of 40.

Guess they’re not part of the Force.  

(YSC’s response here)

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