Annual scanxiety

Pink elderflower blossom, East Lothian July 2021

My annual mammogram now falls in July. Eight years out from diagnosis of breast cancer and the ensuing year of treatment, I’m still in annual follow up, still taking tamoxifen. I’m keeping well, and side effects are manageable. Mostly these days I look forward and not back, but there’s nothing like the appointment letter and psyching myself up for the waiting game that follows. I tell myself these days, I’m more worried about secondaries, bone liver or brain mets, and those won’t show in the mammogram. Even so, stepping back into the hospital for a scan that might just reveal a recurrence or a new primary cancer always requires a deep intake of breath.

Maybe it’s not surprising that I’ve written poems about this. Here’s one from Wristwatch, written when these sensations were new.

Annual check-up

The Pentlands have been wheeled closer.
Inigo Jones couldn’t have devised a better fancy:
the sun picks out Caerketton’s every crevice,
vivid grass ices Allermuir’s softer slopes.

These hills are always there, in the gap
between church and trees, sometimes hazed
by cloud, haar, or my own distracted gaze.

(c) Jay Whittaker, all rights reserved

Here’s a later poem from Sweet Anaesthetist.

Back in the waiting room

Another fork in the road.
One route loops back to needles,
bad news, pain. The other stretches
to foothills; its end hidden
under low-lying mist.

Truth is, we’re already set on a path.
Our bodies have already chosen to blossom,
wither in their own season.
Eyes, don’t register what’s ahead,
feet, keep on walking.

(c) Jay Whittaker, all rights reserved

As they say on the telly, if you’ve been affected by any of the issues in these poems, I recommend Breast Cancer Now as a source of information and support.

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