By Heather Parker, Chemo Chum and Macmillan Volunteer, in her own words (originally posted in 2020, updated May 2023)
"My story was originally published at the height of the pandemic. However, even now, a lot of these measures are still in place. This feels reassuring, and as some patients are going through cancer treatment at the time of their screening, and may have a lowered immunity, they constitute reassuring safeguarding measures. Also, with reduced staffing likely in many places due to the holiday season and the impact of industrial action, many departments are still facing staffing challenges which can impact on schedules and timescales.
I’m an 'unknown primary' monitored cancer patient. Part of my monitoring is an annual mammogram. I was due to have it during the last week of March, but that was just as “lockdown” was set in place. Quite a challenging time for all of us. My thoughts kept coming back to my cancelled appointment. Well, it wasn’t cancelled, just postponed. As you can imagine, I worried about any consequences due to its delay. Would I feel safe when I do go for it? Will I get missed from the re-scheduling? How painful might the test be?
The hospital has its focus in the right place, on us: the patients. A nurse called me to explain it was probably more of a concern to have the mammogram now, than wait for the current situation to ease.
Two weeks ago, I was called by another nurse. She invited me, but only if I felt comfortable with it, to attend a re-scheduled mammogram. This was in Wharfedale Hospital, where I have previously had it. I responded that I would feel at ease going, rather than delaying to a future date.
Wharfedale is a charming hospital, in a quieter area. I rather felt like I’d embarked on some type of excursion going there. On this occasion, the hospital provided free parking (although at £1.00 for 1 hour it was pretty reasonable anyway).
I knew just where to go, but the route was clearly marked. A few extra precautions were in place. The Reception team were wearing masks, and clearly spacing out the few of us that were waiting. I’d barely sat down, when a nurse called me and took me into the Radiology section. There was a closed door, with an intercom and an instruction sign. I buzzed the intercom, gave my name and appointment time. Seconds later, I was greeted by another nurse and taken to just outside the mammogram room. She asked me how I was feeling, and how my journey in had been.
The attending nurse appeared and ushered me in. Details were checked once more, and I removed clothes to my waist. The two nurses had gloves and masks on. The first nurse put me into position. This did entail a bit of lifting, and re-positioning. I found this comforting - they want to get the best pictures, they’re being thorough. The scan itself didn’t hurt, but squeezed and was uncomfortable. On command, I held my breath. Each picture took merely seconds. The second nurse, who was sat at the computer screen, checked the picture. We did my other side. Same again - this was checked. The first nurse confirmed they were happy with the clarity of the scans. It was over very quickly and dealt with very professionally.
I asked for a rough idea how long it would be until I received my results. I knew this would be more difficult during our current pandemic, and almost certainly slower. I was handed a leaflet, with telephone numbers highlighted. “It will possibly be slower than usual, in six to eight weeks you will receive a letter from us. If you don’t, or you have any concerns, call us on this number. If we need more information or anything we will be in touch in two weeks.”
I only actually saw five patients in the 15 minutes I was in the hospital. It was all calm and controlled. I felt that it was handled perfectly. I was very impressed with Wharfedale Hospital. My results came on the 10th day, and that Monday had been a Bank Holiday! My result was “Satisfactory”. I did see my pictures on the monitor as they were checked. I told myself don’t dwell on the pictures, as I don’t know how to interpret them. My mammogram didn’t hurt, but was merely uncomfortable. It didn’t take a long time, only seconds per scan. The team clearly knew what they were doing and they made sure I understood too.
In conclusion, yes it is a test to do - but a necessary one, and one that I personally am very grateful for."