Don't give up hope. I love this message -- found in a Dove chocolate wrapper.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I am using this post to remind my lady friends of the importance of early detection. I had my own scare two years ago ...
"I don't think THAT is supposed to be there." Hubby had found a lump. I had trouble feeling it for myself ... but after much prodding and squeezing, I found the offensive, hard, ball of terror. My knees instantly weakened, my breathing stopped - and I felt like my heart did too. For certain - time stood still. I processed the finding. After the shock faded, so did the fear. Years ago I had a similar experience when I found a lump the size of a small plum on my neck. It turned out to be a cyst. I didn't worry then - and I didn't worry with this new discovery. I was fairly convinced that it would turn out to be a cyst ... but I took immediate action all the same.
I went to my family doctor, a woman about my own age. After conducting a physical breast exam, she was unable to find or feel any lumps. I asked her for a mammogram. At 47, I had never had one, and there had been some breast cancer in our family history. She was nonchalant, and replied, "well, if you think you will feel better by having one, I'll schedule you a mammogram. I guess it couldn't hurt".
So off I truddled to my first mammogram appointment (the details of which could be its own humourous post), confident with the knowledge that I was being proactive and preventive. It's an odd sensation having your breasts sanwiched - flattened - between the metal clamps. The elderly, kindly technician smiled as she tightened the clamps and said, "let me know when you can't tolerate it anymore". She had explained that the flatter the breast, the better the result - so I bravely went beyond my tolerance and then whispered --"OK - that's as far as I can take it". Then she kciked it up one last notch. That little lady was a sneaky one, but I was on to her game.
I never imagined how good relief could feel until she freed me and invited me to take a seat while she reviewed the film. Admittedly, my knees were weak and the big black spots I was seeing was telling me that I was on the verge of passing out. Release came just in time. After waiting for about 15 minutes in my trendy gown, she emerged from the developing room to announce that we were going to do it again. Well, we ended up doing it three times over, and by the time I left with her cheerful, "now don't worry if we call you to come back in -- it's your first one and that is very common" - I was starting to get a little nervous.
A week later, I was called back in. We repeated the process and she explained that she wanted the radiologist to be present to get a good reading. I agreed wholeheartedly. Believe it or not, I was called back for a third time and this time I received an ultrasound. Fear was starting to creep in. I could see a mass on the screen. The technician is not allowed to reveal what they see, but there it was, as plain as day, and it looked like there was more than one.
A follow up visit to my doctor resulted in her telling me I was loaded with what they thought were cysts -- more than 20. Ironically she still was unable to detect any of them in the physical exam she gave me that same visit -- even after I tried to show her.
Needless to say, I fired her and went to my dad's family doctor. I needed to know something definitive here. After all that I had learned about breast cancer, I wasn't going to fall short of knowing what I was dealing with. I was mobilized by anger and frustration.
To make a long story not so long, I ended up having a needle biopsy and a few of the larger cysts aspirated to make me more comfortable. I had been referred to a breast expert and under his diligent care, I found out that I have dense breasts and am just loaded with cysts - but I do not have cancer.
I am one of the lucky ones but what I learned from this experience is something that I knew all along -- we have to take charge of our own health and insist on knowing what our symptons point to. I will continue to request mammograms every two years and conduct regular self-exams on my breasts. Early detection is key.
To all of the women who are living and fighting with breast cancer, I send you strength and hugs. Don't give up hope.
The Canadian Cancer Society has this neat little gizmo called the Thingamaboob. It looks like a keychain made of different sized clear, pink beads and it shows the different lump sizes that can be detected through a variety of breast-screening methods. Go the to the Thingamaboob website to learn more about the importance of mammograms or get your own Thingamaboob.
View the TIME: Breast Cancer Photo Essay -- prepare to be moved.
You may be interested in my post Waiting Room.