Roisin Gorman’s Open Letter… on breast screening

‘Nobody said self-care wasn’t invasive but you’ve had the same amount of discomfort from your new pair of shoes’

Kylie Minogue, now happy and healthy at 54, was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 36© (?,??(/??%/>F ?????_/

Sunday World

It’s bra off and get them out time, but in a good way.

The joy of my breast screening has just rolled around again, coinciding with October’s breast cancer awareness month.

And once you’ve got over joining the 50 plus club which comes with the gift of a mammogram every two years in Ireland and every three years in the UK the slightly uncomfortable boob squishing is worth a few minutes of anyone’s time.

This was my second squishing and I’d forgotten that only in the amazing world of women’s healthcare is it entirely normal to make small talk in a small room while naked from the waist up.

On this occasion the talk wasn’t really small. I shared the fact that a friend living abroad had missed a mammogram because of the pandemic and booked one by chance while visiting a hospital. That spur of the moment decision found a tumour she didn’t know was there.

In the vast majority of cases screening for breast cancer, the most common cancer in the world according to the WHO affecting Sheryl Crow to Kylie will return a negative result, although there have been some concerns about overdiagnosis and false negatives. Personally, I prefer to take the test, and roll with the maths which suggests it will be fine. Survival rates barely changed from the 1930s to the seventies and then leapt in the eighties in countries with screening programmes, so I’m happy to get the girls out when it’s mammogram time.

Clinics are often overbooked to allow for the women who don’t show, but if that’s because of fear or embarrassment, I’ve had more traumatic bra fittings, particularly that one where the nice lady worked out the cup size by literally cupping. A little warning would have been nice, but this was the noughties when Trinny and Susannah were making a living from cupping.

The last time it was strictly hands-off, apart from the tape measure and a slightly pitying look which said, ‘how did you ever think that bra fitted?’

For me the most difficult part of the breast screening is trying to remember some really basic instructions, but I usually need a moment to work out left and right. Left writes, the other one doesn’t.

Hand on your hip, look over there, hold your breath sounds easy but when you’re an uncoordinated foal it’s like the Hokey Cokey of health. It’s given me a new appreciation of even the plodders on Strictly who appear surprised to have two feet.

An expert guides your breast to where it’s supposed to be, the machine is adjusted to hold everything where it needs to be, do it again on the other side and you’re off home to await what is overwhelmingly likely to be good news. And if it’s not you’ve got early detection on your side.

As screening goes this is like strolling down a red carpet compared to cervical checks.

Anyone who’s known the joys of cervical screening will know the phrase ‘and just relax’ is part of the script and entirely useless as someone approaches with a medieval instrument of torture and hokes around what feels like the centre of your being. And it’s just as worth doing. No one said self-care wasn’t invasive and slightly uncomfortable, but you’ve had more discomfort from a new pair of shoes.

And it all sounds like much more fun than a prostate exam.


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