Did you know that the NHS had effected a downward extension of the age for free mammograms? Nor did I - until I got called for one. I'm 47 and as of some time last year, I'm in the age range. Yesterday I had my first-ever breast screening appointment.
Stop reading now, by the way, if you are of a squeamish disposition, or do not like thinking about the fact I have boobs, or do not like the fact I'm prepared to mention them in public. Because this may be a TMI post.
I had been told it wasn't a very nice experience, and I can now agree wholeheartedly with that. It is very uncomfortable, physically. But on the other hand, in every respect where they can make it less horrible, they do (or at least Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith do). I had the chance to choose an appointment date and time that suited me. When I arrived, I was seen promptly (I had taken a book and a bottle of water and was expecting a long wait, but I was into the screening room on the dot of three o'clock). The radiologist was female, and was friendly, kindly, sympathetic and chatty - yet at the same time she also managed to be unintrusive and decorous. That can't be easy when you spend your working day handling other women's tits like so many slices of steak to be tenderised. She was gentle, she primed me for what the machine would feel like, and gave me tips on what I could do to minimise the discomfort (basically, relax, keep breathing, keep still, and don't hunch your shoulders).
As those of you who know me face to face will be aware, I have fairly big breasts. Not huge, but a good size all the same. A lot for the machine to take into its plastic maw. As they are also pretty firm for their age, they were very resistant to being squished. Large firm breasts are apparently the most painful when being screened, I was told. I've never wished for a pair of droopies, indeed have always been rather proud of my perky pups and how well they were standing up to the joint tests of time and gravity, until yesterday!
As for the machine, well; speaking in particular to those that haven't ever had a mammogram, everything you've heard is true, I'm afraid. Two x-ray plates are taken of each breast, and to take them, your boobs are put between two surfaces and then squashed hard. Really, really hard. The upper piece comes down and down, pressing your breast onto the lower piece, until you think "Crikey, that's a lot harder than I expected, ouch!" - and then it comes down a fair bit more after that. It is very uncomfortable indeed, and I was impressed with the fact my boobs sprang back into more-or-less their normal shape afterwards. I don't seem to have any bruises, either, which was worrying me (I bruise easily).
Results in about two weeks, and I shouldn't be called back for three years.
Then I went to an optician's appointment, after that, to have a light shone in my eyes, and my eyelids turned inside-out (yuk yuk yukk) and be told me new contact lenses seem to be a good fit. I've now signed up for monthly renewables instead of the long-wear lenses I used to use. It's going to cost me more, but not an appalling amount - £144 per annum instead of about £110 - and it means I can get a much higher-water-content lens, which apparently is good for older eyes.
I dunno; older eyes, older boobs >sigh< it's all starting to wear out on me...
Well, one of the pluses of being older is being more aware of one's condition, and quicker to spot if one is not in top form. Coming out of Charing Cross Hospital I realised I was feeling slightly shellshocked, and peculiarly tired for the middle of the afternoon. Once, I would have given myself a talking-to, told myself to ignore it and tried to soldier on. But nowadays, instead of doing that I went and sat down for a while, and had a hot chocolate and a slice of millionaires' shortbread in a cafe. No-one gains, if I try to force myself to conform to some arbitrary external standard of "what one ought to be able to deal-with"; while if I recognise when I'm a bit shaky, and treat it accordingly, everyone gains, starting with me.
I read an interesting article this morning on depression, and thought "yes, I am skirting along the edge of this at the moment - there it all is in black and white, & I am not being self-indulgent and whiny; it's real and I recognise those symptoms". So I have to sort-out and implement a plan to make sure I look after this older body and older mind of mine. Plenty of sleep, healthy food, adequate and appropriate exercise, come off the computer an hour before bed, see friends and family from time to time, be kind to myself, and go back onto the earlier-nights-and-Sleepytime-tea in the hope of breaking through the pattern of insomnia that has grown up over the last few months. And don't nag myself for being inadequate.
To finish on a more cheerful note, last night I totted up the total number of words I've written since last June. Taking into account the completed "Gold Hawk", the new novel I've just started work on (which is a western - odd, but there you go, the Muse turns as the Muse wills), the fairy tales, a good deal of fanfiction and some other unfinished stuff, I've written over 330,000 words of fiction in the last 15 months. Not bad, not bad at all. Even if some of it is drivel, that's still all good writing practice.