On November 21, 2014, I got my first screening mammogram. After that experience, I will NEVER get one again.
If you think it’s because the mammogram was painful, you would be wrong.
If you think it’s because there was something “suspicious” that turned out to be a false positive, you’d be wrong again.
If you think it’s because doctors force these screening tests on us that we don’t really need, you’d still be mistaken.
Instead, my very first mammogram revealed that I had breast cancer.
At my routine gynecologist’s visit that year, I had absolutely no symptoms or complaints, and my doctor didn’t feel anything on my breast exam. However, she suggested that I get a baseline mammogram because I was 39 and a half, which was “close enough” to 40 to get started. She handed me the prescription, which I promptly stuffed in my purse as I headed out the door.
In my head, I made plenty of the usual excuses as to why I didn’t need a mammogram:
- I’m so young! I don’t need this now.
- I don’t feel any lumps.
- I feel fine. I would feel bad if something was wrong.
- I’ve heard that mammograms hurt.
- No one in my family has ever had breast cancer.
- I’ve heard there are a lot of false positives. I don’t want to have to deal with that anxiety.
- I’ve heard that mammograms actually cause cancer.
And, in my specific case, I am a pharmacist who specializes in oncology. I have spent my entire professional career taking care of people with cancer, and I now teach pharmacy students about this topic. The idea of ME having any kind of cancer seemed a little ridiculous.
But I’m a rule-follower, and I am constantly preaching to my students about being compliant with medical recommendations, so I begrudgingly got the mammogram.
And there it was. A tumor nearly the size of a golf ball.
The next six months turned into a blur of appointments with oncologists, radiologists, breast surgeons, plastic surgeons, genetic counselors and physical therapists. The final reports were that although my tumor was large, it had not spread beyond my breast. I am so extremely fortunate to have been diagnosed at an early stage of the disease.
I ultimately chose to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, which means that I can no longer have traditional mammograms. My plastic surgeon, who picked up on my sarcastic sense of humor, once told me, “Wow! You went one for one on that, huh?”
I have absolutely no doubt that a routine mammogram saved my life. I am often moved to tears when I consider what would have happened if I had waited to get one, or didn’t get one at all – my choices for my treatment may have been much more limited, or much more unpleasant. Or perhaps the cancer would have been advanced enough that I wouldn’t have had many choices.
I beg you to stop with the excuses, ladies. Get a mammogram. I’m living proof that they save lives.
If you are uninsured or otherwise unable to afford a mammogram, visit http://komenpittsburgh.org/?page_id=5014 for information about the Susan G. Komen Mammogram Voucher Program.