Back in 2003 or so - when I was just 31 - I found a tiny, painless lump in my left breast. It disappeared the next day so I thought ".....probably hormonal. It's coming up for that time of the month". I forgot about it for a week. Suddenly, I got a very brief - lasting a mere second - stabbing pain in my breast. It felt like being stabbed with a needle thin razor. It went as quickly as it came.
That night, I was getting ready for bed when I noticed my nipple was black. I wasn't wearing a new Tshirt or bra so it wasn't dye. I hadn't injured myself - I think I'd have noticed if I'd done something to cause such a severe bruising. I came downstairs and hit Google with a vengeance. Google was full of "breast cancer is painless" and "breast cancer is virtually unheard of in the under 50's". During my foray into internet hypochondria, I came across a lady named Jules on an iVillage community. She had mentioned that her first warning sign was a discoloration of the nipple.
I registered and asked her more. Her answer was what I expected but not what I wanted to hear. Her nipple had turned black. To this day, I've never seen any literature dealing with this specific symptom or got any doctor to explain this so if you have wandered here via a google search for this symptom, I'm sorry to scare you but get yourself to a GP. That's what I did.
The next morning saw me doing battle with the receptionist - I managed to circumvent her defence systems and successfully got a GP to ring me. When I told him my symptoms, and that I had not slept all night, he fitted me in that afternoon. I duly arrived for my appointment and again had to do battle with the receptionist who claimed I didn't have an appointment. I assured her that I did and that Dr P had made it himself. When she asked what the emergency was, she realised that I did in fact have an appointment - the GP had made a note of my symptoms but forgotten to attach a name to it.
She admitted defeat and allowed me to see the GP. He had a look here, a poke there and said he couldn't feel any lumps but because I knew my breast better than he did, he was going to refer me anyway. He wasn't overly concerned about the black/bruised nipple.
Three weeks and a lot of worrying later, I got a phone call from the outraged receptionist. How DARE I not turn up to an appointment at the breast clinic? Not receiving a letter about it was no excuse, apparently. When I established that the GP surgery had given the hospital an address that I hadn't lived at for five years, she was slightly mollified and agreed to get it sorted out.
So, a week later saw me in in the Portakabin that comprised the breast clinic. I was painfully aware that I was the youngest there. I had a hospital gown on my top half and jeans on the bottom. On my knee was a wire shopping basket containing my Tshirt. This struck me as funny and I sat giggling with my husband. This attracted many looks from the other, much older ladies.......this was to become a common theme.
So I got sent for a mammogram. Protip - if you are young and have big boobs - this is going to hurt. Hit the paracetamol before you go. I then got called into the doctor's room who said there was no lump in the region I had indicated. However, there was a lump here and a lump there - she indicated these on the mammogram picture. She decided that a biopsy was the next step and took four or five biopsies. They didn't hurt - the noise made me jump but no pain. That said, I was staring at a lit up acrylic picture on the ceiling above the bed and wondering just who thought that would be a good idea.
That's it - I got told to go home and come back in a week for the results. In that week, the biopsy sites became infected and I again had to do battle with the GP staff to get some antibiotics. I saw a locum GP who didn't seem to believe that these wounds were biopsies taken in a test for breast cancer. She demanded that I squeezed my nipple, which promptly bled.. She handed over the antibiotics and I went home, blood soaking my Tshirt. I wasn't wearing a bra - the biopsy sites were hot and swollen and I couldn't take the fabric on them - so I couldn't even rig up a wodge of loo roll in my bra.
One miserable, miserable (can we say antibiotic intolerance?!) week later I returned for the results. This time I saw the surgeon, not the registrar. She told me that they'd lost the biopsy results. LOST THEM. LOST.
She took more and promised to courier them over to the other hospital for testing herself. I was told to return in three days for the results.
I duly returned on the appointed day, at the appointed time of 1PM and at 4,45pm, it was my turn to go in. I knew as soon as I walked in to the doctor's room how it was. There was a cast of thousands in the surgeon's tiny room. Okay, there was the surgeon, a nurse and someone else whose purpose I never discovered, but in a 6ft by 6ft room, it felt like a full house.
She said "Our suspicions have been confirmed. You have breast cancer." I turned to my husband and said "right, well, I think we were prepared for that, weren't we?" One look at his face told me that no, he hadn't been prepared for that.
Whatever cancer throws your way, we’re right there with you.
We’re here to provide physical, financial and emotional support.
© Macmillan Cancer Support 2020
© Macmillan Cancer Support, registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604). Also operating in Northern Ireland. A company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales company number 2400969. Isle of Man company number 4694F. Registered office: 89 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7UQ. VAT no: 668265007