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Nicky Marr: It's better to be safe than sorry with cancer screenings

By Nicky Marr

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Cancer scans are crucial
Cancer scans are crucial

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I don’t have breast cancer. In fact, I’ve never had breast cancer. Instead, routine screening has revealed that I have a tiny cyst in my left breast which will probably never give me any bother.

But alongside that cyst I have an over-active imagination. I’m currently catching up on nights of missed sleep, thanks to the thoughts tap-dancing through my head before my recall appointment.

“There’s no point in worrying till I know I’ve got something to worry about,” I sternly reminded myself as I ploughed through work, delivering three workshops and two awards ceremonies, writing thousands of words, and delivering coaching sessions.

That sound advice fortified me while the sun was up and I was busy, but it abandoned me at night, when I was left with irrational worries, and another cup of 3am tea. A dram at bedtime, usually guaranteed to knock me out till morning, didn’t work its magic. Was breast cancer going to be my story?

Drama queen? Self-centred? Overthinker? Moi? Yes, guilty on all counts.

But if the past fortnight is what not having breast cancer is like, I never want to have any cancer for real. And I have new-found respect for the mental fortitude of those who survive it, and those who know they won’t.

We’ve lost too many of our friends to cancer, and too many friends are currently living with it, undergoing treatment, or waiting for that next scan. Selfishly, I didn’t want that for me. Even although the lovely, reassuring leaflet from the Highland Breast Centre advised me to think of my recall as ‘the second stage of screening’, I feared I’d be among the 20 per cent who would receive bad news, rather than the 80 per cent who are sent skipping off home.

Between my phone call and receiving the all-clear, I imagined I’d lose my career, my hair, and my sense of taste. I certainly lost my sense of perspective.

But there is a silver lining; over a raucously irreverent evening with my daughter I worked out the songs for my funeral, decided on a silver glitter coffin, and planned to travel to the crematorium in the boot of our motorhome. I really love being in the van.

It had started with a routine mammogram where a very kind and warm-handed mammographer took each breast in turn and placed it between two plates. There was a bit of a squeeze, a click while the image was taken, then the procedure was repeated on the other side. Within five minutes of arriving in the building I was dressed and heading home, fully expecting to get a letter with the all-clear.

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But instead of the letter, I got the call. Work commitments (where are my priorities?) meant I couldn’t make the first appointment. I was offered another the following week.

“Sure,” I replied, “a week couldn’t hurt, could it?”

“Clinically, no,” I was assured. Back to work, then. But I hadn’t banked on being a worrier.

Back at the Breast Centre it didn’t take long to get the all-clear. The mammogram was repeated, then there was a physical examination (and lots of questions) followed by an ultrasound. And there it was – a tiny black pocket of fluid. Nothing sinister. I could get my things and go.

Of course, if I’d never gone for my mammogram, I’d have been blissfully ignorant. The cyst might be absorbed naturally back into my body, and I’d have saved myself 12 sleepless nights.

But I’d rather know. If that tiny cyst had been a tiny lump, it could have been out by now. Left to grow, who knows?

What do they say – better safe than sorry? Every time.

Go for the scans, get checked out and yes – poop on a stick when the envelope arrives. Get your bowels checked too.

And if you are recalled, I hope you’re in the 80 per cent with me.

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