Bone of Contention

This column first appeared here, in the Sunday Times on 21st June 2020.

A while ago, I found a lump under my right breast. Wait, don’t go, I swear you’re safe, this column isn’t going where you think it’s going.

I was living in a foreign country at the time. The kind of foreign where nobody sells the tea I recognise, the language looks like hieroglyphics, the directions inexplicably use north, south, east and west instead of right and left. And where I didn’t have a doctor or any medical aid.

And to make matters worse, I had just bought a pair of grossly overpriced boots. Only because I’d done the sums and carefully post-rationalised how many times I planned on wearing them in the coming years, to amortise their price into something thinkable.

But I don’t think you can wear high-heeled red boots when you’re dead, which meant I was going to have to wear them 3,572 times in the next few months to get my money’s worth before I kicked it.

Adding insult to lumpectomy, winter had barely started where I was, and we were at that point where there were still many lovely summery days ahead, and I don’t think you can wear high-heeled red winter boots with shorts when you’re me, not without scaring neighbourhood dogs and children.

Since I didn’t know the word for breast in the country I was in, or the word for doctor, I decided that instead of doing something tangible about it, I would just worry and panic-Google. Which everyone knows is the no 1 thing you should never do when you think you might have something.

Google MD is the fake-news portal of the medical industry. We could really use a “Web MD Snopes”. A type of myth-busting site where you type in your Googled prognosis and find out if it’s legitimate.

Sure, there are many questions you can trust the internet to answer truthfully. Things like, “How old is Halle Berry?”, “Is Keanu Reeves married?” and “Did Kevin Spacey ever get prosecuted?” Or “How long does it take a spaceship to get to the International Space Station?”, “Where do the astronauts pee?” or “How many kilos is seven pounds?” But what you should never, never, ever ask the internet is: “What does this (insert symptom) in my (insert location on your body) mean?”

I decided I was coming back to SA in a couple of months anyway, and if I could live till then without tea, a sense of direction, and fresh vegetables that I could recognise and name, surely I could also survive without medical advice from an actual trained professional?

When I got back, I made an emergency appointment with my doctor. OK, so it was wasn’t my doctor-doctor, it was my botox guy, but he must have had some medical training along the way to giving me the eyebrows of a 33-year-old. And he was definitely a step up from Web MD, especially since I didn’t have to know how to spell “polyp” when asking him about it.

Reluctantly, he had a good feel around, but wasn’t able to come up with anything solid. The best he could do to relieve my lump anxiety was to remove my frown lines.

He also prescribed a trip to the right kind of doctor, urgently.

So I took his advice and urgently waited another month until I was really beside myself with worry.

I waited because, well, I have no legitimate excuse, but here’s the rationalised one: partly because I was hopeful that the lump would just go away on its own, and partly because if it was bad news I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it, and mostly because I’m human, and we are nothing if not experts in procrastination, denial and excuse-mongering.

I eventually sucked it up and made an appointment with my gynae, and attempted not to pee on my hand while giving a urine sample. She gave me a comprehensive exam and asked some questions: did the lump come and go? Had I lost any weight?

I was just mentally adjusting my last will and testament, deciding who would get the most wear out of the boots, when she told me that I had simply lost weight, and the lump I was feeling was one of my ribs.

So, it turns out that while my procrastination will probably one day be terminal, the lump is not.

• Follow the author of this article, Paige Nick, on Twitter: @Paigen



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