It arrived nearly three weeks ago. The dreaded envelope was sitting on the doormat. The letter that "invited" me for my three yearly mammogram. Wish it was any other kind of invitation! I have more reason to fear this than most as I have already had breast cancer. Almost fifteen years ago now and statistically no more likely than any other woman of my age to contract the big C, but the invitation brings back all kinds of memories and emotions, along with the irrational fear that it might have come back.
I am one of the lucky ones; a success story. Over 50% of people diagnosed with cancer will now survive and I am one of them. Each and every day of my life I am grateful for that and grateful for the heightened awareness of the disease that made me go to the doctor when I thought I could feel a tiny lump. I am grateful that my GP referred me to a consultant even though she thought it was nothing. I am lucky that the surgery was successful and I was offered the best treatment to ensure it did not return. Here I am almost fifteen years later, fit as a fiddle and embracing life.
My husband went out with an old friend the other night. He told me that there was a time when they used to meet and talk about music, football, girlfriends and the like. He never thought there would come a time when their conversation would revolve around their ailments, their aches and pains and when their next PSA test is due! He, like many other men in their sixties has been diagnosed with prostatitis which seems to be a generic label for any problems being experienced in the nether regions, with no life threatening symptoms. It does mean that they keep an eye on him with a regular blood test which measures how likely he is to develop prostate cancer.
So we both have reason to be wary of any changes, both real and imagined, in our health. I am usually a very positive person but if I have a headache that lasts longer than a day or a prolonged bout of indigestion or anything at all unusual, I start to wonder "what if?" Of course, the more you worry about a symptom the worse it seems to get and usually only goes away after a trip to the doctor for reassurance. She must think I'm paranoid!
I feel very lucky to be living at a time when there is so much information about the warning signs of a range of illnesses thanks to the efforts of the various charities who raise awareness. My dad knew the warning signs when he was about to have a heart attack and got himself to the hospital where he was fitted with stents and sent home to recover. There is every reason to be confident that any serious issue can be picked up and treated at an early stage and that we can look forward to a healthy and happy life for many years to come. With any luck. Then again, maybe luck won't have such a big part to play as more of us start to take responsibility for our own health by moderating our diet and trying to exercise. I believe we have a duty to do this.
Another envelope has arrived. It's sitting on the doormat and I steel myself to open it. The words jump around on the page as I scan for the magic words..."no sign of cancer" I breathe again.