It was a couple of years ago when I noticed something odd about one of my breasts and went to my doctor to get it checked out. I was nervous, and cracked joke after joke as I was poked and prodded. To my great relief, the slight discharge I was experiencing was pronounced completely normal.
Unfortunately, while all of that was being investigated, my doctor found a lump.
"I have a lump" has become thinly-veiled code amongst women for "I'm freaking out." I told a few friends, and cracked some more jokes, and inside I quietly panicked. I was a single mom. I couldn't have breast cancer. I didn't have time. My kids needed me. I didn't have the strength.
One mammogram, one ultrasound, and one surgical excision later, I was diagnosed with atypical ductal hyperplasia -- a condition of cell change termed either "harmless" or "precancerous," depending on whom you ask. Either way, it does mean I have an elevated risk of developing breast cancer in the future.
And so along with a small scar I received a metaphorical frequent-flier ticket on the Mammogram Express. Although I have a few more years until I turn 40, I've been having scans every six months ever since my surgery. And whenever I tell someone that I'm off to have a mammogram, if the hearer is male or has never had a mammogram, the response is always exaggerated sympathy.
The reality, of course, is that while there are plenty of things I'd rather do than have a mammogram -- go to the park, eat ice cream, read a good book, tickle my kids -- it's really not that bad. It doesn't hurt. True, it's mildly uncomfortable, and it means letting a stranger feel me up, and I just don't think I look all that fetching in a hospital gown. And the little band-aid thingies they put over your nipples really can't hold a candle to pasties. But at the end of the day, it's a simple diagnostic procedure that could save my life. So I guess I'll keep going.
Friday (October 17) is National Mammography Day, and it's also the date of my next mammogram. I didn't plan it that way, or anything, but there it is. I guess you could say I'm celebrating in style! Or, you know, naked from the waist up!
Not sure when you need to have mammograms? Until recently it was recommended that women age 40 and older have a mammogram every year. In 2007 the American College of Physicians revised their stance, suggesting now that women in the 40 - 49 age bracket be evaluated individually by their physicians to assess the need for mammography. (Women age 50+ should still have a mammogram yearly.)
If you want to help make mammograms available to women in need, it's as easy as clicking: Just click every day over at the Breast Cancer Site. It doesn't cost you a thing, and helps provide early detection for others. Did you know that the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer exceeds 96% when the disease is detected early?
I'm not the only one with mammograms on the brain:
SixWise is discussing 11 myths about breast cancer you probably thought were true.
Over at EmpowHer, Eliz Greene tells us that mammograms have an added side benefit -- they can also be an early predictor of heart disease.
Shari at Y'all Ever Wondered... is about to have her first mammogram.
The Writing Playground's Marilyn Puett shares her friend Pam's journey through breast cancer.
And The "Over 40" Life considers her mammography experience a reminder call.
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