Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Unless you’ve been living under a bra, I mean rock, you know that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
You’ve read the stats, probably donated money for research, maybe walked or ran in support of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Good for you. But my message is aimed at women like me--ostrich women, with our heads firmly planted in the sand.
Here’s the message: Get the mammogram.
Oh, I know all the excuses, because I’ve used them, too:
• “I don’t have a family history of breast cancer.”
• “I do monthly self-exams so I don’t need mammograms.”
• “I’m too young to get breast cancer.”
• “My breasts are so lumpy and dense a mammogram wouldn’t do any good.”
• “I hear mammograms hurt.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and WRONG. Get the mammogram.
I’ve met many breast cancer survivors. One woman was pregnant with twins when she was diagnosed. After treatment and surgery she is happy and healthy today, and so are the teenage twins.
Another mom’s first clue came when her young daughter’s elbow hit her breast during a game of tag. A nauseating wave of pain made her gasp—and call her doctor. Fifteen years later, both mother and daughter are fine.
One woman had what doctors called “fibrous breasts,” meaning her breasts always felt lumpy. One day she recognized a “different” lump. A doctor diagnosed cancer and she had a lumpectomy and radiation. Now, 12 years later, she’s so active and enthusiastic she makes me cranky.
There’s one survivor who really stunned me. “Bonnie” was a vegetarian, an RN, a runner and under 40. My assignment was to write an article about her for Breast Cancer Awareness Week.
I drove to her house. A vibrant, slender woman with muscled legs and long red hair walked out the front door, smiling. I smiled back, but kept looking around for the lady with breast cancer.
When she said, “Hi, I’m Bonnie,” I thought I’d faint. She saw my shock and her smile got bigger. “Who’da thunk it, right?” she said wryly.
Over the next hour I learned that A) She had zero family history of breast cancer, B) She had an amazingly healthful lifestyle, and C) None of it mattered. She felt a lump, had a mammogram and a radical mastectomy saved her life.
I never forgot Bonnie. The day after we met I scheduled a baseline mammogram. I‘ve had one every year since then. Insurance pays for it. (The biggest issue is that the breast care center at Trident Regional Medical Center is 25 miles from my house. But Dunkin’ Donuts is only a block from there, so it’s all good!)
A mammogram doesn’t hurt. Repeat, IT DOES NOT HURT. I’m not trying to impress you with false bravado; I whimper when my teeth are cleaned, and break out in a cold sweat during pap smears. I hate pain and fear and probing. Getting a mammogram involves none of those things.
The procedure is simple. A really nice female technician will ask you to take your top and bra off. Then you stand up and lean forward against the machine so she can place one breast between two imaging plates, which are gently pressed together. Then she says, “Hold your breath!” A switch clicks and half of your mammogram is over. Ninety seconds later, the rest of your mammogram is over.
That’s it. That’s all.
Julie R. Smith, who is getting bossier with age, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.