The great white screen beckons as I join the millions of iPad users, to record my journey. I have been in two minds regarding the need to purchase this ‘toy’ as I referred to it, however my recent health diagnosis has provided some perspective on, the art of living in the present.
Prior to my recent 51st birthday (6th October) I was contacted by Breast Screen ACT by phone, as several reminder cards had been returned to their office. In 2010 I had moved back to WA, and in the advent of moving and commencing another high level position in the public service, I had neglected to inform the clinic of my change of address. The phone call from the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) breast scan service reinforced my intent to have a mammogram and Pap smear, as a present to myself. I had had my first mammogram at 49 and my scan had been clear. I informed my female workplace administrative team of my intent to encourage discussion. Several comments questioned both my timing and the notion that these two uncomfortable experiences should be classified as a ‘gift’ to oneself. I disagreed.
Around the same time, I had a compelling desire to locate a new GP in the regional city of Bunbury. I had no evidence for a sense of urgency just an overwhelming belief, that I would need ‘someone in my space’.
Scanning the local paper, I saw an article on the newest doctor to join Brecken Health ,a Bunbury based multidisciplinary clinic. The article featured, a petite blonde haired doctor in her early fifties. I booked an appointment to discuss some post menopausal issues that had been troubling me. I also booked an appointment for a mammogram at the Bunbury Breast Screen van located at the St John of God Health campus that same week.
My new doctor commenced by engaging me with a series of detailed questions, the first of which centred on the current appointment, quickly followed by key questioning to determine my current health status. She asked if I had a recent mammogram and Pap smear. I recounted my intent, and made a future booking that week to undertake a Pap Smear. I felt confident that this doctor was governed by a professional and personal code of ethics and that she would apply a professional management of my health in partnership with my commitment to follow through on her recommendations and referrals.
I underwent the mammogram on the 5th October and returned to that afternoon for the Pap smear. While my results for the Pap smear were within normal range, I was contacted by Breast Screen, the following week requesting that I return for a second mammogram. This mammogram was undertaken by a different technician. It was excruciating, resulting in my vocalisation of ,’get it off, get it off’. The results were forwarded to my doctor who confirmed that a mass had been found and while this was distressing, recommended confirmation of the status before engaging in speculation. I was referred to Global Diagnostics for an high priority fine needle aspiration to determine if my suspicious lump was cystic. During this procedure, a core biopsy was progressed with 3 segments removed from the estimated 8 millimetre mass. This procedure was accompanied with local anaesthetic so while uncomfortable was not painful. The technican had great difficulty in locating and identifying mass with ultrasonic tools. The mass was located 2cm within my right breast positioned at 3 o’clock.
On 5 November, I made an appointment with my doctor, leaving work early. That day had been particularly challenging involving complex HR issues with several staff, the usual suspects, who had made counter-productivity and manipulation their workplace mandate and who were regular contributors to my stress level rising. Ironically it was these same people that needed to furnish my house with tokens of acknowledgement and appeals which bordered on the cry for absolution. I have learned the subtle art of boundary keeping. For many who felt such sunlight who did not deserve it, there has been only shade since my absence from work.
I wanted not to return to my administrative team that afternoon who I count as dear friends, if the diagnosis was not positive. my doctor enquired if I had got her message to come to the surgery, however I had not and had made an appointment as I was eager for clarification. She walked me through the steps that had led to the moment that we found ourselves. The words, ‘unfortunately it is cancer’ filled the small consultation room.
The shock was immediate, and the tears followed. I reflected concern for my workplace responsibility and that I did not have ‘time’ in my schedule for cancer. She firmly directed my attention to one challenge only, the fight to save my life. She called my new partner into the surgery and updated him. Under dark glasses, I signed and left the surgery. In the car park of the surgery, my partner held me tightly while I wept.