When I was twenty-six, I thought I was invincible. I wasn’t good about doing my monthly self breast exams, even though I knew I should. It came as a surprise when, at my yearly gynecological appointment, my doctor spent some extra time examining my right breast. Then she got this funny look on her face.
She had found something. She showed me. I could feel it, too. She was fairly sure it was a fibroid, probably hormonally-related, but she wanted me to see a surgeon, just in case. And soon. Is two days from now good for you?
Oh. Okay. Gulp.
I knew better than to take breast health for granted. One of my earliest memories is of my paternal grandmother and the prosthetic bra she wore. At 48, my grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had a radical mastectomy of her right breast. The doctors clearly removed all the diseased tissue as my grandmother lived to a feisty 86 years old. From my own experience, I knew better.
One scare is all it takes
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I met a wonderful surgeon, had the lump biopsied and then removed in outpatient surgery one rainy Friday morning. It was just a fibroid, thankfully. I was lucky to have just a small scar. But I learned my lesson. Regular self exams and regular exams by trained physicians are important.
It wasn’t my last breast fibroid, though. A few years later, in another city and after Alfs was born, I developed another breast fibroid. I had some sense of it when I went into see my doctor — having learned my lesson — but it was just a few weeks before we were to move several states away. My doctor was wonderful about, though cautious. A close friend of hers from medical school had died of breast cancer just a few years before, in her early 30s. She was not one to mess around with anything like this, but since it was likely a fibroid and mammogram appointments at the hospital were tight, she insisted I make an appointment in my new city. From her office.
My first mammogram
A few weeks after relocation, the day arrived for my mammogram and a consult with a local surgeon. I was nervous.
Now, I don’t have a lot of breast tissue. I often joke that I do a fairly complete breast exam every time I adjust my loose, A-cup bra. I figured there wouldn’t be much to look at. After all, how much could they really do with these scrawny little mammary glands?
Boy was I wrong. I was quite amazed with the tugging and the squashing into the machine. The tech was as gentle as she could be, but she needed to get good films. It wasn’t painful, just uncomfortable and slightly weird to have a stranger’s gloved hands all over my boobies — not to mention the squashing. I started giggling in my nervousness, thus disrupting the process. I reminded myself that my breasts were nothing special to anyone there, this was a medical test, and I needed to swallow my embarrassment and the giggles and go with it. I did just that. Again, it was just a fibroid, and this time it was resolving on it’s own. No surgery required. Phew.
On to yearly mammograms
It’s nine years later, and we’ve long since moved back from that relocated state. When I saw my local doctor for the first time after my return, she immediately asked about the fibroid and how the situation resolved. She was relieved to hear everything was okay.
Then, as I approached my 40th birthday, my doctor reminded me that it was time to start having annual mammograms. I wouldn’t say I was excited for this milestone, both in years and medical testing, but I knew it was coming. Like the test itself, it was time to swallow slight embarrassment and other assorted feelings and just accept it as a part of life. Yes, I know guidelines on the frequency of mammograms vary, but so long as I have even a slightly increased risk (from my paternal grandmother), I’ll be careful and carefully watched by my medical team: I schedule my annual mammogram for right around my birthday every year. And yes, I do monthly self exams. And I am thankful that my insurance covers the testing my doctor requests and I don’t have to worry about it on that level either.
My next mammogram is coming up — and this year I intend to combine my trip into the city to the imaging center with lunch with a dear old friend. I wouldn’t say mammograms are fun — though I can make the day mostly fun – but they aren’t awful, either. They are totally doable and necessary and worth the effort; they are a part of life. Scheduling them around my birthday may seem odd, but it’s so I won’t forget.
I use my birthday each year as a reminder to take care of myself. I am not the only one who benefits, either. I’m taking care of myself for myself, for my family, and as an example for my kids. That’s a pretty good reason to accept the squash.