When I was younger, I almost enjoyed it. Invincible, I thought I was – or didn’t think as such: Just assumed, as most people do, that death and illness were so far in the future that they would not dare to intrude upon the now.
In the intervening years, two family members have been diagnosed with breast cancer – and my earlier insouciance has been replaced by a far graver approach to the whole thing: I dread it, whilst acknowledging how very lucky we are in this country to get such things free, regularly and in a clinic not too far from where we live. Many others in this world have none of the above.
Monday, a gloomy, grey and rainy day, I went to Bristol, to a depressing-looking clinic, to have a mammogram.
I was tense and distressed anyway. There is a lot going on in my life which, put together, is causing severe stress and ongoing physical pain.
I always feel incredibly vulnerable when I allow the radiographer to lift my breasts, one at a time, onto the plate of the machine. This time, it hurt and I winced, and felt afraid (of the pain, of the results, of the whole shebang). But I made people laugh (the way I usually do) and tried to be upbeat and polite and not to let my anxiety show.
But it’s the little things that jerk the emotional handle, isn’t it?
Driving home, sore and sad, a tune from my childhood, ‘Blow the wind Southerly‘, came on the radio – and tears just streamed unstoppably down my face.
I think it was the contrast really, if I am honest: The memory of the nine-year-old Ali singing this lovely song in a Headington primary school – protected, at that age, from the world of body pain, panic attacks and the reality of breast cancer.
It is, of course, a preventative exercise – and I have no reason to think that I actually have the disease. But it is always a frightening time particularly when, like me, you have a family history of female cancers.
But, in an odd way, that torrent of tears helped. I had stored a huge tank of stress chemicals in my bloodstream and muscles, and the open sobbing flushed a few of them out.