It was about 20 years ago when I found a lump in my breast. I went straight to see my beloved gynecologist, now retired, (I miss you, Dr. McN!) who sent me immediately to mammography and then, to a surgeon.
“I don’t think it’s cancer,” the surgeon told me. “You’re the wrong age and it just doesn’t look like it. But I’ve been wrong, and I just don’t want to take the chance.” He sent me for a surgical lumpectomy, which, thank God, was benign. I wasn’t particularly anxious about it back then; I was younger and less experienced in the unfairness of cancer. Me? Cancer? Naah. That was my attitude. Thankfully, I was right.
Since then, though, I’ve had a yearly mammogram. And now, of course, I practically light up the church with candles in preparation.
A few months before her final illness, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a partial mastectomy. It’s easy to forget, because there was so much else wrong with her and she died a year later from something else. Cancer simply had not hit my immediately family. At all. Except it did strike my mother at age 74. I have to force myself to remember to answer YES on the form that asks if a close relative had breast cancer.
It’s that time again, October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month –and I don’t know how it happened, but I am nine months late for my annual mammogram.My internist almost had a cow during my physical last month.
“You’re very late on this,” she admonished me. So off I went yesterday to get my mammogram at the same imaging center I’ve visited for two decades. I return year after year so that they can more easily compare images to that old lump. It’s important because sometimes there are false alarms, and I’m so neurotic these days that a false alarm would raise a whole load of anxiety. A big boatload of it. So why not minimize those chances by making sure they have all the comparative data at their fingertips?
As I waited, I thought about the breast cancer survivors I know, and the friend who’s having both breasts removed later this month.
D: 6 year breast cancer survivor
Breast imaging centers are particularly female places. Usually, anyway. There’s a certain gentle energy to women supporting women through this disease. The technician told me she’d been doing mammograms since the mid-1960s, when they did far fewer and mammograms were not a part of routine preventive care.
Women know what it’s like in there: the radiology tech gets up close and personal as she manipulates your breasts this way and that way before squeezing them between two plates to get the right image.
“Is it easier to do large breasts?” I asked her, as she pushed gently against me. I could feel her breath against my face.
“Well, it’s easier when they’re like yours and don’t flop around,” she said. “When they’re large and floppy or small and firm it can be more difficult.” I resisted the urge to ask about those who have had implants.
Some women find mammograms terribly uncomfortable, but I’m not one of them. I was done in less than 10 minutes. Just two hours later there was an email from my internist: GLAD YOUR MAMMOGRAM WAS NORMAL it said. Just that.
Wow. Results within two hours was pretty good and of course, it was a relief.
I am always aware that it’s the luck of the draw, this breast cancer thing, and so far, I have drawn good hands. But not everyone is that lucky.
So, this month, as I do every month, I send a prayer of thanks that I am so lucky and also a prayer to those I know who are fighting cancer and those who have survived.
It’s October. Be sure you are getting your mammograms on schedule. And please join me in sending warm, loving prayers to those who have breast cancer –and any cancer.