"Belittling interaction with consultant"

About: St Lukes Hospital / Breast surgery

(as the patient),

This story relates to my attendance at the breast clinic at St Lukes in November 2018. It is only recently that I have thought about leaving feedback after a discussion with a friend who had a very similar experience at a different hospital.

One day last October, I discovered a lump in my breast the size and shape of a kidney bean. Having never felt a lump before ever in my breast, I was quite alarmed. I got a same day appointment with a GP and she reassured me saying she thought it was not anything serious but she would refer me up to the hospital to have it properly checked out.

I did not know what to expect at the breast clinic at St Lukes having never been before. I was treated with the highest level of empathy, concern and respect by all the female staff I encountered: the receptionist, staff nurse, sonographer and other support staff. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the male consultant who I felt was arrogant and belittling me towards me.

He came to examine my breast, felt the lump and exclaimed it is just fatty tissue! I don’t know why you have been referred here. You have to understand that changes in your breasts are just a sign of ageing! (I was 37) I was taken aback by these comments because I had found a hard lump in my breast and all the public health messages tell women to take this seriously and to present to healthcare as soon as they find a lump. There was some more exclamation and exasperation on his part and he started talking aloud to himself about whether he should even bother sending me for an ultrasound. I felt really vulnerable. I was lying down with my breast exposed and here was a man I had only met two minutes previously standing over me and almost shouting at me that I shouldn’t have presented to the clinic.

I asked him what sort of lump I should be checking for in my breasts and he replied “a hard round lump, at least the size of a marble”. My mother in law had breast cancer and her lump was only the size of pea when she went to her GP and was then subsequently diagnosed at the hospital. He also said something about the skin of the breast looking like “indian rubber”. I think this must be some sort of neo-colonialist reference that I don’t understand because I had no idea what he was talking about and a subsequent google search did not help me either.

After some vexatious deliberation, he decided to send me for an ultrasound and I was called through by a kind sonographer who immediately put me at ease. After the ultrasound, I went back into the waiting room and sometime later I was called in to see a very compassionate staff nurse who explained that the results of the scan were fine. I left the clinic feeling bewildered and a bit tearful despite the fact that there was nothing wrong with my breast.

I have to say that this brief but bizarre interaction with this consultant has had a direct impact on me. I don’t check my breasts as often because I don’t want to find anything that will mean another trip up to the breast clinic and the potential to be belittled again. I am not clinically trained so how am I supposed to know the difference between a suspicious lump and mere "signs of ageing"? I realise that the breast clinic will deal with multiple women every day who are diagnosed with breast cancer and that in comparison my presentation was considered trivial. But it was not trivial to me. I feel like my entire experience could have been completely different had the consultant taken a reassuring rather than belittling tone.