Sunday, April 3, 2016

I got my breasts squeezed!

How's that for an attention grabber?

But it wasn't in the fun way. I had my first mammogram last week. I have a family history of breast cancer.

Here's me, in my gown, getting ready. Not glamorous, but life isn't always, and breast cancer isn't, certainly.

We lost my beautiful mama, and my aunt, her beautiful sister Elaine to breast cancer. Both were under 65 when they passed.

I come from a big family. My mama has 2 beautiful sisters who survive her still.  I am one of 7 surviving female first cousins, and at present I think there are 19 women in next generation, and some of them have get the picture, big family, lots of beautiful amazing women I love deeply.

These losses have shaped me, and changed my perspective on life profoundly.  My family, otherwise, boasts decent longevity. Most live into their 80s if not 90s. I grew up with all 4 grandparents until I was 16, and we had few losses in a relatively large family until I was into my 20s. I knew, even then, with less experience and wisdom, that I was fortunate, that we were fortunate, fortunate to have each other, and to have so few untimely goodbyes. I don't take my own longevity as a given anymore.

My mother chose her own path with regard to her health, and how she dealt with her cancer, which was not to address it medically until it was pretty advanced. She was born at home, in small Pennsylvania mining town, where people didn't see a doctor often. Her attitude toward modern medicine, at least from my perspective, was a mix of fear and skepticism. I know this evolved somewhat as she received treatment. But all in all, she wasn't comfortable with traditional medical treatments.

She also didn't really want the details of her diagnosis, feeling that this would somehow impress upon her, and shape her destiny. I am a very different person in this way. I would rather have the information, the full information, and then choose how to react and respond. Not knowing is oh so much worse for me than knowing. 

I did spend a few days lost in the fear of what if? What if this happens to me?  Who will care for me? Will my daughters be okay? And then I remembered to come back to now. Breast cancer is by no means a foregone conclusion for me, and it's not happening now. I just need to deal with right now.

So, at my Doctor's recommendation, I got a mammogram. I am much younger than my mom and aunt when they were diagnosed, and my doctor had no concerns for me now. But she felt, and I agreed, that having baseline photos of my healthy breasts would useful in the event that anything occurs down the line.

The imaging staff was great, and the process was a uncomfortable at times, but not painful for me. And over in about 15 minutes. 

That said, I'm not necessarily advocating that everyone get a mammogram regularly. The nurses study, which is referenced in this NY Time article, and which is was a very well conducted, well respected research study, indicates that early detection through mammography, does not indicate a better survival rate. This is pretty big stuff. Mammography in the United States is a profitable enterprise, and both this study, and my own doctor, call into question the ethics and the usefulness of regular mammograms.

For me, it made sense this time. And I want my daughters to know, if ever I do encounter breast cancer, that I was proactive and did all in my power to insure my own health and longevity. We each have to follow our own path in life, health, and even death, and part of my own process of grieving my mother has included both trying to make peace with her choices, and defining more fully how I view health and what steps I will take toward my own health. Mostly, though, I'm glad that I still have more time to figure this, and many other things out.


rosaria williams said...

Women have this shadow following them around, especially if there is a family history to worry about. I too was of the same opinion as your mom's, until just recently. If and when I have to make a decision, I know that medicine has come a long way and I must be brave and strong and allow the professionals to guide me. And yes, our decision is based on so many things, fear being the biggest. Sending you good thoughts.

Lalchumi said...

Diana, like your dear mother I didn't want details about my cancer, or the treatments, or test results at first, because I thought these would somehow shape my ability to deal with it. There are still things I refuse to read, like the lists of possible side effects of certain medications. But now I have come to believe in knowing as much as I can about the various aspects of what's going on in my body, and feel much more prepared to handle the present as well as the future.
Early on in the first year after my diagnosis, I did genetic testing, and discovered that I have the BRCA1 gene anomaly, which probably means my children (and theirs) might possibly have it too. A mammogram is a good start though.
Love you loads.