Thursday 15 October 2009

How I found my lump.

P often gets ribbed for his role in this blog. ‘Fucking hell, mate,’ his friends will say. ‘You come off well don’t you?’ And they’re right; he does. But that’s because it’s all true. P is every bit as wonderful as I eulogise in these posts. He’s loving, considerate, sexy and a damn good laugh – and it was thanks to him that I discovered my tumour. (You should also know that he snores louder than a Boeing 747, farts when I’m spooning him and is terrifyingly competitive to the point where I’m considering burning our Scrabble set.) 

I often wonder – were it not for P, and the play fight we were having on our bed during which he grabbed hold of my left tit – whether I ever would have known about my lump? And were it not for the spectacularly show-stopping fall I had in Debenhams the week previous, landing on my chest after tripping on a slippy floor in unsteady heels, would I have been as aware of my bruised tits as I was when P went in for the play-fight-winning grab? (Told you he was competitive.) 

I know there’s no use in going over these things. The lump was found. The lump was dealt with. End of. But, much as Mr Marbles used to chastise me for it, I can’t help but speculate – in some kind of Sliding Doors-esque parallel universe in which the above paragraph didn’t happen and the lump was never found – whether I’d now be dead. Because, given the size and spread of The Bullshit when we did discover it, you can’t help but presume that the long-haired me wouldn’t have been around to write this post. 

Today is European Breast Health Day, part of the wider breast cancer awareness month: the October-long, couldn’t-miss-it-if-you-tried, more-ubiquitous-than-Kate-Price campaign to make women – and men, let’s not forget – more aware of their chests. (But I’ll save that rant for another post.) And, in the spirit of getting to know your breasts, there’s been a #breastcancerawareness tag floating about Twitter, in which girls have been taking photos of their boobs and posting them on the site. 

Party-pooping ruiner that I am, I refused to participate, given that (a) I can’t help but wonder whether this Twitter-wide tit-flash was thought up by some cancer-ignorant deviant more interested in perving over the collective cleavages of the interweb than promoting an important campaign; (b) I seriously doubt that every lass who’s posted a picture of her assets then self-examined said lady lumps immediately afterwards; and (c) one flash of my, um, ‘alternative’ puppies online would be enough to bring about the prompt demise of the Twitter phenomenon for good. And so, bowing out of the fun, I instead promised to do my #breastcancerawareness bit another way. Which is why I’ve decided to tell the story of how I found my lump – something I’ve never previously written about on Alright Tit. (Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.) 

Pre-Bullshit, I was under no illusions of how important it was to self-examine. The only trouble was, I never knew whether I was doing it right. You read all these stories of women having found their lumps in the shower, when applying sun cream, or while trying on bras. And, frankly, I don’t know how they do it. I would never have found my lump that way. Because, until P made me aware of the lychee-like irregularity beside my nipple, I wouldn’t have had a clue what I was looking for. I may still not know what I’d be looking for. 

All the advice tells you to look for changes in your breasts. Which necessitates getting to know them in the same way that you know your hair; noticing every split end, difference in texture and the point at which your highlighted roots have gone from Kate-Moss-acceptable to Courtney-Love-urgent. The kind of stuff we all know instinctively – and with which we’re far more familiar than we are with the state of our boobs. Which is, of course, completely ridiculous, given that your hair can’t do you much damage. (Or, at least, it can’t until someone shows you the photos ten years later.) 

And the truth is, in the months prior to The Bullshit, I’d done nothing but look for changes in my breasts – but for an altogether different reason than cancer. Instead, I’d stand topless in front of the mirror every couple of days, studying variations in my nipples in the apparent hope that it’d be a better pregnancy indicator than anything ClearBlue had to offer. And, in all honesty, my boobs were changing. My left tit – always marginally bigger than my right – looked ever so slightly more weighty than usual, and my nipples seemed to look different every time I blinked. But with cancer as far off my radar as attempting a moon landing, I never would have concluded that the changes were down to anything other than the business of getting knocked up. 

My point with this post isn’t to tell you how to check your breasts for lumps. Despite my experience in the area, I’m still no more qualified than a rhesus monkey to advise you on how it’s done. Because, even though I prod and poke at my right tit more often than is becoming of a lady, I still know that every time I’m at a hospital appointment, the doctor I’m seeing will always check my breast for me. (And yes, that was purposely singular. My fake tit is never examined, as though it were as far removed from a breast as a Rubik’s cube, Cornish pasty or a flask of coffee.) So instead, I’m going to direct you here, to Channel 4’s excellent Embarrassing Illnesses microsite and, specifically, their step-by-step video on self-examining. (Twitter pervs will be pleased to hear that it features a topless chick and, rather wonderfully, you can also download it to your phone so you can fondle your tits on the move. Fifty quid to the first person to self-examine on the Jubilee Line.) All I can do is tell you what my lump was like, and hope – in the unlikely circumstance that you ever cop a feel of some suspicious stuff, too – that something you’ve read in this post might jog your memory and give you the required kick up the arse to introduce your lumpy tit to your GP. 

‘Oi, that hurt, you bastard,’ I whined to P as our play-fight came to a sudden halt after his victorious boob-grab. 
‘Really? Because it didn’t feel right either,’ he said, sitting up abruptly and facing me sternly in the means-business manner of someone about to begin a monologue with ‘I think it’s time we had a talk.’ 
I whipped off my bra and, with my index and middle fingers, prodded the firm swelling to the left of my nipple that, in a blindfolded test, could easily have been a lump of hardened Play-Doh. It was painful, yes, but I wasn’t sure whether that was because of my fall in Debenhams, P’s over-enthusiastic grasp or the lump itself. It seemed to be slightly moveable, too, but then I could easily have been kidding myself of that, convincing myself that I’d previously read that cysts moved about and tumours didn’t. 

‘Fuckfuckfuck, there is a lump,’ I said to P, grabbing his right hand. ‘Here. Feel it.’ 
‘Shit, there is,’ he confirmed, surprised, as though he hadn’t really believed me before. His startled eyes fixed on mine in a way that hinted at confusion over whether to suggest the obvious or reassure me that it’d be nothing to worry about. ‘Just get yourself to the doctor’s first thing,’ he advised. ‘Whatever it is, there’s nothing we can do about it now.’ 
‘I will,’ I assured him. ‘Maybe she’ll even tell me I’m pregnant.’ 

She didn’t.


Helen said...

I thought it was only me who didn't really know what to look for when self examining.

I shall watch that video when I get home. I don't think my boss would appreciate a breast examination at my desk. The boys probably would though. The lewd beasts.

marsha said...

that last line just hit me with surprise and made me cry at work.

Posting now


Anonymous said...

P sounds like a gem!

You're right, I've no clue what to look for either, even though I have once been given a fake breast to fondle with the purpose of teaching people what to look for.

I'm with Helen on the video, people will be slightly...disturbed...if they see some topless pictures on my screen from across the office!

Lil said...

I love P too but not as much as I love you and damn you woman as if I'm not bleedin teary enough at the moment (because of the sodding penicillin) you wrote that.

Lil xx

Caro said...

Even if you do know what to look for, that isn't always enough. Right up to the day my lovely surgeon removed my left breast, the lump - which was already a Grade 3 cancer - couldn't be felt....

I couldn't feel it, my husband couldn't feel it, and even my lovely surgeon couldn't feel it! But on ultrasound, there it was....

So no matter how much you self-examine (and even if you do know what to look for - I never did either!), if you have a history of breast cancer (or ovarian cancer - because the two are often genetically linked) in your family, shout for annual screening - and keep shouting till you get it!


lilianavonk said...

My grandmother had ovarian cancer, but I'd never heard about any link between that and breast cancer before. (Of course I'm already a DES baby with an obscure neuromuscular disease, so I'm really not liable to be surprised by anything on the health front at this point.)

After reading this, though--apart from giving The Twins a good solid going-over--I kinda just wanna hug you for the next seventeen days. And not let go. ♥

Toby Jones said...


Any chance you could hop on a train to Leicester? I'm stuck in work till 5 and, having read this, I REALLY need to give you a hug right now.

You rock. Lots.

The Sanity Inspector said...

(You should also know that he snores louder than a Boeing 747, farts when I’m spooning him and is terrifyingly competitive to the point where I’m considering burning our Scrabble set.)

Sounds like a good premise for him to have his own blog (if he doesnt' already). Keep rowing, your courage is inspiring.