"For Medical Ultrasound Awareness Month #MUAM we wanted to include an article from the patient’s perspective. We would like to thank Anise for submitting the following, which is her experience of having ultrasound scans for breast cancer. It is well worth reading. Anise has written a moving poem for sonographers at the end."
- Nigel Thomson, professional officer for ultrasound.
Twelve years ago I had my first ultrasound. I was pregnant. The scan was exciting, almost miraculous. I got to see my tiny baby and know that I wasn’t just carrying round a big hairball.
This kind of ultrasound is joyous. It’s an image that you have a copy of and share with all your friends and family. Each scan throughout the pregnancy reveals a little more until you meet your baby for real. My daughter was born safe and well.
Two years later I was pregnant again. This time I was puking everywhere and feeling horrendous. At three months the sonographer showed me a picture of my baby and said to me, “I can tell you why you’ve been feeling so sick.” Immediately I think, "What can being sick show about a baby? Does it have no head or something?"
She pans back and announces that there are two babies. It was wonderful and alarming! My two daughters were born safe and well.
Another two years later, I discover that I have a lumpy breast. At the hospital one stop clinic, the doctor sends me off for an ultrasound with a needle biopsy. I remember being in total denial about what it could be. In the waiting room I’m thinking about work and where I need to be after this.
During the scan, I looked at the screen of the ultrasound and it is grey and empty. There’s no baby. There’s no joy. No-one will be asking to see my scan photos after this. It felt disorientating. Instead of looking for life, they’re looking for death. And they found it, five centimetres of cancer.
After a full body scan to look for any further cancer, I had to have an ultrasound of my liver. Two people did a thorough search of my liver and made me hold my breath a lot, occasionally forgetting to let me breathe. They left me in a darkened room with a gown on for a long time. That’s inevitably stressful. At last they found a very tiny birthmark on my liver.
I have a heart murmur. Before sending me off to have my mastectomy I had a heart ultrasound. It wasn’t my best ultrasound experience. Instead of a room, this was on a bed behind a curtain. The scan person was talking to someone else as she came in and throughout she seemed distracted and not much interested in how a person was attached to this heart. I was on a conveyer belt of heart scans.
Over the next year I had a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy followed by 12 months of Herceptin infusions. I had lots more scans and tests and ultrasounds.
And I changed. From someone who did what I was told in the hospital to someone who is demanding and grouchy. I refuse to wear the hospital gown. I say no and ask why and I find all medical procedures uncomfortable and invasive and I will complain.
Fortunately, I’m cancer free now and my family and I are all healthy. I’m thankful for the treatment and support I’ve received and of course, for the NHS. There are still some symptoms from the treatment that I have to contend with and there’s always the risk that it will come back. I’m sure there will be more ultrasound in my future.
Here are some things I’d like sonographers to know:
Just a scan
There is no such thing as ‘just a scan’
A scan is a story
With a life changing message
You are the storyteller
Making and breaking our dreams
Realising our hopes and fears
Giving us the life affirming reassurance that we will be ok
You are the first to confirm a new beginning
The end of a beginning
Or the beginning of the end
We come to you
Or simply unaware
And we leave changed
Because there is no such thing as ‘just a scan’