October is national Breast Cancer Awareness month and last Friday was national Mammography Day.
To some this column may feel like a lecture, to others it may feel uncomfortable, and for that I apologize (kind of).
The general rule of thumb for getting on the mammogram schedule begins about the age of 40. Just the mere thoughts of getting “squished” between two platforms caused me to shudder, and for eight years I ignored this suggestion.
In reality, a mammogram is a non-invasive procedure that is used to check for breast cancer in women, even if they have no signs or symptoms of it. The screenings involve a series of X-rays of each breast and are great for detecting tumors deep inside the breast tissue that cannot be felt.
At the age of 48, other medical circumstances forced me to make an appointment with my doctor. Of course, in the very first conversation, a mammogram was suggested and I refused. Even with my mother having had breast cancer with a subsequent double mastectomy, and a maternal aunt dying at age 40 from it, I still said, “no.” Firmly.
Then came the real pressure. My daughters, who had been encouraging me to get one, along with my mom, really started to come down on me for not submitting to the medical squeeze.
The three of them conspired and brought my sisters into the clandestine group. With much persuasion, I agreed, and with my heels dragging, I went.
My first result was typical for many, which was “dense.” Much to my chagrin, another mammogram had to be scheduled. Upon the conclusion of that, as I walked through the waiting room to the changing room, my name was called for more testing. My fear continued to grow through the third mammogram.
The results? "We found something and we would like to do a biopsy."
As most readers know, the results of that biopsy proved what the mammogram was providing a glimpse of -- cancer of the malignant type. In fact, the cancer was extensive enough that nothing could be spared.
Weeks were spent consulting with doctors, oncology teams, educational teams, and individuals too many to count. Every single person who met with me and my daughters was amazing, kind, empathetic and compassionate. If you work in the Breast Clinic, please accept this genuine thank you.
Combine the breast cancer with my other health issues and more than one surgery was necessary. Knowing familial history, and the area covered by cancer, there really were no options to vacillate between.
Ultimately, I had a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy, an emergency surgery, and two reconstructive surgeries.
Why am I pushing mammograms you wonder? The cancer that was found in me would never have been found by a self-examination. There were no lumps or bumps, and there was no pain.
Under examination, this cancer appeared to have been shaken out of a salt shaker and was dotted through my tissue. Had I not caved to the pressure of family members, I know I still would not have gone in and had a mammogram What could my cancer have grown into?
Now, rather than the thought of a mammogram making me shudder, the thought of what could have happened does.
I believe there is a silver lining to everything, and for me, that means no more mammograms, ever!
Please, don’t wait for October, don’t wait years beyond the recommendation, and don’t wait until someone drags you in -- just go get a mammogram.