With the celebration of my last birthday, I earned a special privilege—the “privilege” of having my first mammogram. According to the American Cancer Society, it is suggested that after age 40, women have a screening mammogram each year, along with an ultrasound if the breast tissue is very dense. So, when I went for my yearly well-woman exam, I was not completely surprised that I was given a prescription for a screening mammogram.
I hurried to get it done because I wanted to get it over with before changing my mind. I booked my appointment, and I went with my sister, who also had to do her yearly mammogram. I will say that having a buddy made it a lot easier. The process was pretty simple, and despite what I had heard, it was not very painful. I would put it on the list with getting your cuticles cut or having your teeth cleaned. I was also sure to avoid scheduling it during my cycle so that my breast wouldn’t be tender. When booking your appointment, that is something to keep in mind if breast tenderness is one of the symptoms you experience before or during menstruation. The procedure was as routine as one would expect. The mammographer was very pleasant; she was extra gentle since it was my first time. She squeezed my breast, one at a time, between what felt like a plastic plate and asked me to hold my breath. After that, the ultrasound, and before I knew it, I was done with the appointment. I went on with my world, expecting not to hear anything more until my next well-woman visit in a year.
I remember getting the letter from Pembroke Pink two weeks later in the mail and reading it, but not reading it. You know how you read things, but you only “read” the important parts. There were so many words on the paper, and in my mind, I was young; this was my first mammogram, I had nothing to worry about. Until the phone rang two days later and it was my Gynecologist office. They asked me to call and make an appointment with Pembroke Pink for a diagnostic mammogram. I barely got to ask why because I didn’t want enough information to lead me to a self-diagnosis with the help of Dr. Google. Yes, I am one of those people.
I mentioned that I had my first Covid-19 vaccine, and I thought I was supposed to wait eight weeks until after the vaccine to have a mammogram, but they told me we couldn’t afford to wait.
At that moment, my life flashed before me.
Everything was on hold, and I just stopped phone calls, the activities, the work, everything in my mind as I processed the information she was giving me. I hung up the phone and made my appointment as they told me, then I re-read the letter they had sent to me days earlier. Somehow the words now began to make sense: dense tissue, calcifications, further investigation. I had glanced over them before, just expecting everything to be routine.
As I waited for the next appointment, I prayed morning and night. I spoke to God about my plans and about all the things I needed to do in my life and for my family, and I tried not to worry, but hey, I’m human and mom, and that’s what we do best.
While waiting for the appointment, I thought of every person I knew who experienced a challenge with their health, drawing on their strength and perseverance. I tried not to focus on the wild thoughts that ran across my mind. I patiently waited for my appointment, and when it arrived, I went, and I prayed as I undressed. This time it was a bit more bothersome as they squeezed my breast with more concern for seeing the contents than for the grimace my face made with each image. The mammographer then told me to return to the dressing room and wait in the fluffy white robe they had given for the Doctor to review the images. I was not ready for results. I had prepared myself to be strong enough to make it through the test, but not for the testimony.
The time seemed to stand still until I saw her reappear and call me into another room. I held my breath as she opened the folder and said, “you’re fine, the doctor will see you in a year.” I cannot explain accurately the feelings that followed. I let out a huge sigh of relief, and the tears forced themselves out of my eyes. I stretched out my arms to hug her, forgetting anything about Covid-19 and social distancing. My entire body and mind felt relieved. I had no idea how much it had made me worry. For every woman, the first mammogram serves as a baseline. So it is not usual for your Doctor to need a diagnostic mammogram to verify findings and have something to compare your future images. I wish someone had told me upfront so I wouldn’t worry as much. I had spent so much time wishing I had waited one more year to have the exam because of fear. But the truth is, so much can happen in a year, in a month, in a day. The statistics show that one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer, the second leading cause of death in women.
So why do moms dread or even avoid their mammograms?
It’s disheartening, really, and yet with our advances in early detection screenings and treatment, we statistically have more survivors than ever before.
Fear should not keep you from doing what’s best and from getting answers that can save your life. Every woman has those moments of fear, of doubt, or even a blissful wish of ignorance, but when it comes down to it, living a long healthy life requires the courage to do what is necessary even when it scares the crap out of you. When the time arises for you to have this privilege, do it. Do it even if you’re scared. Call a friend or a sister and do it together. Remember that an early diagnosis leads to better outcomes in health and everything under the sun. I wish you health and strength to move forward with those not-so-fun decisions we have to make as moms now; it even makes it more challenging.