Monday 21 October 2019

Sarah Carey: Pilates gave me cancer

The Internet wasn't concerned about the lump Sarah Carey had under her arm, but it was going to take money and drama to get official confirmation

Stock photo
Stock photo

Sarah Carey

Though I'm a regular consultant of Dr Google, I'm not one to presume the worst. So when I noticed a bothersome lump under my arm, I diagnosed myself cautiously. Nothing about my putative tumour fulfilled the criteria for cancer. It was moveable and tender. Cancer presents as a hard, immovable lump.

But there was no inflammation, so that ruled out an abscess or lymph node infection. It had mysteriously appeared, so it wasn't some natural quirk of my anatomy. Therefore, I did the entirely rational thing, and concluded it was a benign mystery, upon which it was best not to dwell.

Nurturing anxiety

Alas, that proved impossible, due to the relentless urgings of Hollywood actresses and celebrity doctors to dutifully report "any changes". 'Awareness' is, indeed, a life-saving state of enlightenment; unnecessary anxiety quite another.

Months went by. Maybe a year. Eventually, I consulted a GP, who agreed the protrusion was non-cancerous in its presentation, but recommended further investigation as a precaution. I have health insurance, so she referred me to a private hospital. I departed - minus €50.

I got a call just two days later from a consultant's secretary, to say I should present myself that very day, since I was "symptomatic". I was alarmed by the connotations that word implied, and so, a few hours later, I focused on the wall of a carpeted office, while the doctor prodded my poor boobs.

Why do I always end up powerless and exposed to smooth-talking men while I pray for their good opinion? He, too, cheerfully agreed this lump was completely atypical for cancer, but the "protocols were tight" and I'd better go downstairs for a mammogram and ultrasound immediately.

This was going further than I anticipated. On my way out, the secretary presented his bill: €180. I gave her my debit card. Thirty minutes later, at the radiography counter, I was processed and informed I had to pay €300 - upfront.

Dismayed, it occurred to me that this wasn't merely a waste of time, but a revenue-collection strategy. Was I an idiot for obediently complying? I briefly considered disputing the premise of the entire enterprise, but it seemed the wrong environment in which to start making a fuss. After all, I might have cancer. I handed over my credit card.

I thought a mammogram was some straightforward X-ray. Hell, no. You stand into a machine that takes your poor tit and squashes it as flat as possible. If it wasn't so clinical, it would be creepy. So now, apart from being scared about cancer and annoyed that I was in some private medical rip-off, I was about to cry, and a step away from fainting.

But I held it together and demurely queued for the ultrasound. Of course that was performed by another slim, cheerful and distinguished greying man. They're everywhere. He asked lots of questions, and I blushed when I admitted I'd noticed the lump anything up to a year ago. But promptly enough, he leaned into the screen and asked: "Have you taken up any new exercise?" "Yes! Pilates. I can do press-ups!" (About three).

And thus he proudly showed me that my 'lump' was perfectly healthy muscle. It wasn't cancer. It was my triceps. I was hugely relieved and deeply annoyed. When I discovered my insurance would pay for most of the cost, I was even more so. I'd been put through this farcical and frightening drama because the health professionals I encountered lacked the confidence to state that which the internet had known from the start, all courtesy of rising health-insurance premiums.

And it took a while before I could face doing Pilates again. After all, that's what gave me cancer.

Sunday Independent

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