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This is the year I turned 40, and, like a good girl, I went for my first mammogram. Boom! Cancer.
The prevailing notion amongst my circle of friends has been our 40s is when our lives will start to get easier. By now, we figured, our children can hold their own in the bathroom arena, and even entertain themselves for a bit without constant mommy intervention. Our jobs should be more established, or at least, not something we fret over so much as we did a decade ago. By this point, we’ve figured out how to accept our shortcomings in the department of who we are supposed to be and are starting to just “be.” We can turn on the autopilot and coast now.
But no! Cancer.
Here’s the thing: No one is excited to get a mammogram.
The word on the street is it’s gonna hurt, or, at the very least, it will seriously compromise your sense of dignity. If there’s any excuse you can possibly find to miss that appointment, you cash it in.
Especially if there’s no history of breast cancer in the family. Especially if you’ve been giving yourself self exams and have found nothing out of the ordinary, save for the fact that they seem to be lower than they used to be. Is that something we should report to our docs? We wonder.
Here’s how it went down for me.
A full year ago my physician put the mammogram on my calendar. I’d forgotten all about it. But then it poked its head in the middle of a busy day, and I was irritated about it. I’m a busy lady. I work long hours, I have two young children who go to school in two separate cities. “I don’t have time for this,” I think. But I go.
Things did not start out well. I wore deodorant AND body lotion, which I didn’t realize could skew the results. I wore a dress, instead of separates, so I had to fully undress for the darn thing. Here I’m supposed to be the kind of woman who has her act together, and I can’t get a mammogram appointment right. Ugh.
The actual mammogram was the easy part. It didn’t hurt, and while I wasn’t a fan of my boob being on full display with a stranger, I rationalized that the tech had boobs too. And figuring this is probably the one hundredth set of boobs she’s seen this week, mine were in no way special.
Until I learned that they were special, and not in the good way. There was a “shadow” on the imaging, and I’d likely be called back. For most women, the shadow is a result of dense breasts or something, anything, less than cancer.
So I went to my second mammogram determined to rock it: no deodorant, no lotion, wearing separates, let’s go. Again, I had a dozen other places I would have preferred being. And so did every woman in that waiting room. We flipped through our magazines, making mental lists of what we had to accomplish next. Things to pick up from the grocery store, calls to make, parents to check in on. Just let this be over, was the vibe in that room.
And then it was my turn, and again, no big deal. A little nudity, put your boob in the machine, put your shirt back on and out the door, right?
But no. The shadow from the first mammogram persisted, so on to an ultrasound. A doctor was brought in. A biopsy was scheduled.
“Are you sure about this???” Was all I could think.
Now, only a month later, I’m participating in the most downtime I’ve ever experienced, and dare I say, it’s kind of nice? After the biopsy had come back positive for breast cancer, we entered a flurry of activity, deciding what course of treatment to take, scheduling the surgery, making plans at work for things to be handled in my absence, scheduling caretakers for the boys and the dog, arranging meals, recruiting help for the lawn and house and laundry—it’s stunning when you step back and consider all that you’re responsible for.
I can’t help but consider what would have happened if I hadn’t gone for that mammogram. What if I’d waited until I was 50? Would I be writing these words now? All I know is I’m lucky. Lucky I went, lucky they found my cancer early, lucky I was treated, lucky I’m sitting on this couch writing this blog today.
So if you haven’t gone for yours like you should have, if you’ve been rescheduling and rescheduling that appointment for things you’d rather do, please reconsider. And while you’re at it, remind your girlfriends, too. They’ll thank you for it.
Not sure when you’re due for a mammogram or what you need to know before you go? Find out more about what you need to know about breast cancer at every stage.
Erin Gadd is the director of public relations for the Parma City School District and writes the “Mommy Wars” column for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. You can connect with her on her blog at erinlgadd.wordpress.com.