I put off getting my first mammogram for three years. I knew that I was supposed to start getting screened at 40. My OB/GYN made sure to mention it to me several times in the years leading up to the big 4-0. I had dozens of friends post status updates on Facebook about going to get the girls squished.
But I put it off.
I wasn’t afraid of doing it. It just seemed unnecessary. I have no history of breast cancer in my family. I nursed my kids, for a time anyway. And at 43, I was young. Just past 40 didn’t seem like I was old enough to really have to be concerned. I figured I had plenty of time to go get my first mammo.
It wouldn’t hurt anything if I put it off.
And then I felt something. It wasn’t a big something. It sort of felt like a cashew nut, stuck just under the skin in the lower right quadrant of my right breast.
Still, I put it off.
It was probably cycle-related, I told myself. It’s probably because my period is due, I told myself. Or probably because my period just ended, I told myself. Plus, it was that crazy, chaotic, don’t-have-time-to-sit time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I was certain that the something I felt was absolutely nothing.
So, I put it off.
I’m not terribly good at keeping New Year’s resolutions, but I did resolve to be better about keeping up with routine body maintenance. I resolved to make a dentist’s appointment and a dermatologist’s appointment and a mammogram appointment.
I made my appointment at a satellite radiology office of my local hospital. I didn’t know that not every mammogram facility would read your mammogram while you waited. If I had done my mammogram at the local hospital, they would have read my mammogram before I changed out of the ill-fitting paper gown back into my street clothes. But the satellite office didn’t have a radiologist on staff full time, so I had to wait to get my results.
My appointment was on a Tuesday. I was warned that since it was my first mammogram, they would likely have to call me back in for additional views. It wasn’t anything to worry about and they’d call me Wednesday or Thursday with the results.
Friday came and I hadn’t heard anything. Everything must have been OK, right? Well, no. I got a call at 6:30 Friday evening that they found something on my films and I had to go to the hospital’s breast center at 1:00 on Monday afternoon. Thank you. Have a nice weekend.
Now, if you are calling someone on a Friday afternoon to give them the news that they are in need of further testing for anything, the next words out of your mouth damn well better be that you have Saturday office hours and you would be happy to make them the first appointment the next day. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
I remember almost every little thing about that weekend. It was cold. We had takeout Chinese food Friday night and ordered a pizza on Saturday. We went to a minor league hockey game with the kids’ elementary school. The boys’ had basketball practice and my daughter had a play date. Oh, and it was the longest weekend of my life.
I’ve written about the rest of the story before. The second mammogram led to an ultrasound which led to an appointment with the breast surgeon which led to a biopsy and MRI and unilateral mastectomy and chemo and radiation and a decade of Tamoxifen to look forward to. Not to mention the peripheral neuropathy, alopecia and lifelong terror that it’s going to come back.
Let that be a lesson to you, kiddies. Would my path through breast cancer have been different if I got that first mammo at 40? Who knows. But it certainly wouldn’t have made my situation worse.
Please, I beg you, if you are over 40 and haven’t had a mammogram yet, make an appointment today. And if you’ve skipped a couple of years, make an appointment today. And if you had a mammogram six months ago, make an appointment for your next one today. And please share this message with everyone woman you know. And ask her to share.
Putting it off won’t help anyone. But it certainly won’t hurt.