Here’s Why You Should Get A Mammogram
I was told I didn’t need to have a mammogram till my late 40s, but ignoring that advice saved my life.
“We can’t be 100 percent certain until we get the biopsy results, but I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I can’t tell you right now that it’s breast cancer,” the doctor said. I just stared at him and blinked.
I’d always imagined I’d cry out like a wounded animal or throw myself on the floor if I was diagnosed with a scary illness, but I did neither of those things. I simply said, “Okay, what now?” The doctor then said something I’ll never forget: “You’re going to have a lot of information thrown at you over the next few weeks, but just remember this: you’re going to be okay.” From that moment on, my life became one giant to-do list aimed at survival.
Not that I ever feared for my life. Maybe I’m a freak of nature, but I believed that doc when he said I’d be fine. I was going to do all the things I needed to do to beat this beast and I was going to be A-OK. I’m a total doer when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan.
At first, I was told it was “caught early” and getting rid of it would be easy as pie. But as time and tests wore on, it emerged that my breast cancer was stage 2B, which is definitely not a terrible diagnosis (it had spread to one lymph node but no organs or bones) but not awesome either (we couldn’t be sure if some cancer cells had entered my bloodstream, so I needed the whole shebang when it came to treatment). But before we get to that, let’s backtrack a little.
Here’s how I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 43
My mom had a double mastectomy and reconstruction from her own tissues (they use your tummy fat and muscle) when she was 57. They’d found a tiny pea-sized lump in her left breast but it was a very aggressive form, so she decided not to mess around. Today she’s 73 and the picture of health.
At the time, we were told that it wasn’t a hereditary form of cancer and I didn’t need to start getting mammograms until 10 years before she was diagnosed. That would have made me 47. Ignoring that advice is why I’m alive today.
I got my first mammogram at 40. I had no reason to suspect there was something wrong – it just felt like the smart thing to do. The women in my family have lumpy breasts, which make self-exams very challenging. That initial mammogram came back clear.
Two years later, I was due for another mammogram, but the first COVID lockdown had just started and my specialized breast screen clinic shut down for six weeks. I called my doctor and asked whether I should go elsewhere for a mammogram and he said, “You’re young – a few months won’t make a difference.” I didn’t think about it again until October, when they found three suspicious spots in my left breast.
Even the doctors never felt a lump
When the results of my biopsy came back, the doctor’s instincts were confirmed: I had two ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) tumors and another that was invasive ductal carcinoma. The second was the worrisome one – it’s the type that can spread.
After telling me the results, the doctor felt my breast to see if he could feel the lumps, but he couldn’t. If it wasn’t for the mammogram, I might not be writing this.
The next few months were a complete whirlwind. I could go into detail about all my procedures and treatments, but I’ll spare you the yawn fest. In a nutshell, I had two surgeries, six months of chemo and a month of radiation. As I write this, I’m about to start five years of daily hormone-blocking pills to reduce my risk of recurrence. I’m also having another elective (my choice) mastectomy in a couple of months to further decrease my risk of getting cancer again because it just makes sense to me. If it can kill me, take it away.
You could say it’s been a big year, but heck, I am happy to be ALIVE! As cheesy as it sounds, cancer has really helped me appreciate the little things in life. I now know how to find beauty in the smallest moments and I’m grateful for that.
Here’s what I learned from breast cancer treatment
I rambled on for too long and now I have to fit my wisdom (ha!) into a few bullet points, so here goes:
- Exercise and meditation got me through treatment. There’s a huge body of research that shows that exercise reduces cancer treatment side effects and the risk of recurrence. Yet the world tells you to rest, rest, rest. They mean well, but that’s outdated information. I was lucky enough to have a kick-ass medical team that encouraged me to keep up my running and gym sessions. I can’t tell you how much it helped – I thrived during chemo. I think other cancer patients hated me a little and I don’t blame them.
I was also super-lucky to have meditation skills on my side. I’d been doing it with an app for over two years and it helped me control my anxiety. I can’t recommend it enough – all you need are a few 10-minute meditation sessions a week. It’s life-changing.
- My kids weren’t traumatized. I was so worried about them at first, but I told myself their emotions would mirror mine because they were so young. So, I showed them a positive, I’m-gonna-beat-this attitude (with bits of fear and sadness mixed in) and they were like, “Okay, cool, mom. You do what you gotta do, we’ll be playing with our dolls.” I’ve written about how I discussed the different steps with them – from getting a new breast to losing my hair – and it was all kind of magical. Kids are so resilient and I’m so proud of mine.
- I was kind to myself. I have a history of being my own toughest critic, but I slowly learned to ease up on myself. I managed to work, parent, exercise, move to a new house and start a new life during cancer treatment, so I deserved a pat on the back, amiright? I finally started to see myself through a compassionate lens and to treat myself as I would a friend. Life’s too short to beat yourself up for not being perfect. I still yell at my kids sometimes, swear like a sailor and drink too much wine. And that’s okay because I’m perfectly imperfect, I’m growing every day, and best of all: I’M ALIVE.
Check your boobs and have your boobs checked, ladies. It could save your life.
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