I'm 49. This week I opened a letter to find I'd been 'invited' for breast screening.
My immediate thought was just, Oh OK then. But then I read the leaflet enclosed and started to worry. There was talk of false positives, of unnecessary surgery and radiotherapy, of chemotherapy....I became more and more scared as I read.
I'm sure the idea of the leaflet was to inform. There is much talk of informing patients. But I'm not sure what I should do with the information to be honest. After all a statistic is just that. They are misleading at times and can be as unhelpful as anecdotal evidence (evidence of the 'oh my aunt had that and she died' or 'oh my best mate had that and she was fine' sort.) It tells facts but doesn't interpret them.
It won't change whether I have breast cancer or not by being screened, but I might be treated for a cancer that doesn't need treating. If I'm not screened I may not be treated early for a cancer I do have. Screening is itself risky and over time can raise the 'risk' of breast cancer.
So many 'ifs' so many 'maybes' so many 'don't knows'
I was quite upset reading various medical papers online both explaining why breast screening is vital to save lives, and some explaining why over diagnosis is a real problem. From moment to moment I was changing my mind. How had I moved form 'oh yeah, best get screened' to this quivering, weepy, undecided idiot!?
And then the age thing, I'm 49. Breast screening is advised for women over 50 and I'm not, not until right at the end of this year in any case. Does it matter? Should I go any way? Should I wait a year?
I seemed to have so many more questions than answers. Most articles about the fear women face about mammograms was related to the pain of squashed boobs. For me that is the least of my worries. I'm a small boobed woman. Barely a B cup I'm sure they will have no trouble squishing them flat in their machine. But what I'm afraid of is what they will say next...waiting for a letter.
I have no real idea why I feel so worried. There is no breast cancer (that I'm aware of) in my close family. And I have regular cervical smears without this fear. I have even had to return for extra smears when things were not 100% and yet wasn't worried at all. Why has a breast cancer check filled me with such terror? Is it because I'm suddenly reminded of my age? Am I contemplating my mortality. Am I just a drama queen?!
I think that on balance I will go and get my boobs professionally squeezed. But you might need to hold my hand. I'm scared.