Us Brits do some things extremely well and one of our national skills and characteristics is our ability to form and participate correctly in a queue. It’s one of those life skills that you learn by getting it wrong; you step out of line, speak before it’s your actual turn, stand a little too close to the person who is being served, lean sideways to reach something that you should have picked up earlier or have 11 items in your basket when the legal limit (according to Beryl behind you) is 10. It’s a relative minefield of negative possibilities.
You learn that you’ve done something wrong not by a having a light hearted chat with your neighbour but by the feeling of burning that arises in the back of your head as others in the queue Taser you with heat filled indignation at your downright cheek, the sound of tutting or the drift of a conversation between two of your queue peers as they passive-aggressively have a discussion about ‘standards’ that floats to your ears and the colour of your coat is mentioned.
Having learnt the hard way, as most of us have (talk about Pavlov’s dogs!) most of us now are the pride of our community when we are in queuing mode. We stand the silently approved distance apart, we only step forward when the person in front of us has, we thank the person in front of us in the supermarket when they separate their purchases from ours with a plastic triangle and if light banter should break out we stick to the safe subjects of queue length and weather. We don’t push to the front, speak until the person behind the desk smiles at us indicating that we may continue or stand close enough to identify perfume on another person. Personal space is the law in the UK.
As I was upholding rule number 17 last week in a store (you may just be able to spot me in the photo….…third from the left) I tuned into a conversation that was taking place behind me between (I’d estimate but don’t shoot me) a mother of roughly my age and her daughter. The Mum shared the fact that she’d received her appointment for her regular mammogram screening and wasn’t exactly looking forward to it. No shockers there then. She then proceeded to say that she might not go, that it wasn’t a pleasant experience and she already had something on that date anyway. Her daughter was already making ‘erghhh’ noises and then replied saying that she couldn’t bear the thought of being squeezed by a machine, pinched and prodded and when her time came to be called up she’d probably refuse.
I’m not sure what I was expecting but the Mum simply agreed with her and together they consolidated their opinions by stating the fact that no one in their family had a history of breast cancer and so why bother.
Heading home I realised that I should have broken the Queens queuing rules, turned round and shared the palatable bits of my experience as a warning not to skip the mammograms, the booked one and those in the future. I absolutely know that mammograms do not detect all cancers, it didn’t detect mine despite the size and location of the tumour but thankfully I had a cyst that served as a lucky charm as the process of locating it to drain it with an ultrasound picked it up and the rest is history. I don’t know why I didn’t speak up, it’s not something that would faze me typically but I do know I regret it and I will break with tradition and do so in the future.
What really struck and stayed with me was the universal reaction to mammograms and the bad reputation they have. Granted we can all think of better ways to spend a few minutes, but should we let this negative publicity pervade? Aren’t we all, me included, sustaining the view of this daughter? That something she’s never had sounds so uncomfortable, personal and unpleasant that she’d rather play Russian roulette with her chances? Despite all the research and despite her missing parental advice.
I don’t think the answer is to scaremonger people into believing that if they don’t take up their screening appointment then they will surely regret it when their cancers are too advanced to treat, but then what is the answer? How does society promote a screening service that benefits many in a way that women can understand what’s involved and see the benefits above the momentary physical discomfort and still feel they’ve made the correct informed choice for them? I completely get it, that some women will still not feel it’s the right choice for them. I guess it’s even just in the name. Mention the word mammogram and you’re sure to get a reaction. Of course, the same goes for cervical screening. Worth a ponder isn’t it; I’d be interested in your thoughts.
I say that perhaps the wording makes a difference and that reminds me to mention why there’s an image of two oranges on this post. Well, following on from seeing my Surgeon at the beginning of the month he wrote to me to give me an update on what’s what and to report his findings. During my physical examination at this appointment we discussed how well I’d healed, what my scarring was like and any changes to that area from surgery and radiation. We talked about the sharp breast pains that come at odd times and last for a short while and then dissipate and that they are ongoing effects of radiotherapy as the nerve endings recover. I ignored the part where he said that some women report that they have these for up to ten years; that is NOT going to happen. He also chatted about changes to skin texture from radiotherapy and that he’d noticed that I have evidence of this around the tumour site and in other areas. Fair enough gov, guilty as charged.
In his letter he’s made reference to this and I quote “There is some post radiotherapy change with some peau d’orange. …..” Translated it literally means orange skin and is caused by some cutaneous lymphatic edema thanks to the zapping. It may be a permanent fixture or it might over time become more peachy, either way it’s not a huge problem just something to keep an eye on. I know that peau d’orange is the medical term used for this but it brightened my day anyway as the thought of the alternative “There is some post radiotherapy change with some orange peel ….” would surely have not sounded as intriguing. Thankfully although the skin is still slightly red/pink we’re not talking l’orange d’essex; now that would be concerning………..(for those of you not familiar with this term it refers to the odd shade of orange that most people with fake tans seem to go- just their faces mind you, not their necks, arms, or rest of their bodies).
Anyway back to my question- how could we shift people’s thinking about mammograms?