October is breast cancer awareness month (LOL, I almost wrote breast awareness month). As a breast cancer survivor this year, I want to implore all women 40 and over to get their annual mammogram. If you’re in a high-risk category, which means breast cancer is prevalent in your family, then your doctor may recommend an earlier test. Men, you’re not excluded! You need to get your annual checkups and the “glove treatment,” if you know what I mean.
Three years ago, I had my mammogram discreetly filmed to help women understand what happens during a mammogram. You can watch that mammogram on my YouTube channel, “Stress Relief Tip, Watch My Mammogram.” When you go to get your mammogram, you want to make sure you don’t wear deodorant or powder as both can show up as suspicious spots on your x-ray. First, you will receive a gown that opens in the front. Your x-ray technologist will guide you through the process by having you stand in front of the equipment, which consists of x-ray generator, an image detector, and a breast compression paddle. She will open one side of your gown and place your breast on a plastic plate. It is not painful unless your breasts are tender during the menstrual cycle. If that is the case, take some ibuprofen before you go. But, with that said, it is uncomfortable when someone tugs on your breast and when the other plastic plate comes down and presses your breast into what I call a pancake. This is important for the breast tissue to spread and flatten. The technologist will step behind a shield, press the button to start the x-ray, and it takes about 10-20 seconds for the image to be taken. Normally, I would say to take some deep breaths, but the technologist will tell you to take a deep breath and hold it. That’s when you think happy thoughts and how you’re going to treat yourself when it’s all done. For me, it’s the flavor of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream I will buy. (PLEASE NOTE: My mammogram was filmed prior to the pandemic so masks were not required at that time.)
This process will be repeated at different angles with both breasts. If you have the option to get a 3D mammogram, then definitely do so. A 3D mammogram (breast tomosynthesis) is an imaging test that combines multiple breast X-rays to create a three-dimensional picture of the breast. I like the analogy Dr. Kristi Funk, author of Breasts: The Owner’s Manual, described on Good Morning America. She said a regular mammogram is like taking a loaf of raisin bread and smashing it together and then having the x-ray machine find the raisins. But with 3D mammography, the images will be broken down into about 15 slices and it is easier to find the raisins or in this case, cancer. 3D mammograms are good especially for women with dense breast tissue or for those women who did not find any type of lump in their breast.
The cancer that was found on my mammogram was hidden in four inches of calcification. Because it was suspicious to the radiologist, a very intensive biopsy was done on that breast which revealed the malignant cancer. I’m so thankful for the technology to find cancer. Had I waited six months or even a year, the story would be different. Even though I had a left breast mastectomy, I did not need chemotherapy or radiation. The story is different with many women I’ve talked to who missed six months or even up to five years and the cancer had spread and extensive radiation and chemotherapy was required. Just this week, Katie Couric announced that after missing her annual check-up by six months, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I’m just too busy” is the biggest excuse for not getting a mammogram. The second is being afraid of what might be found. Women, please take responsibility for your health and just do it. Your stress level will go down once you do it. If you ever hear those words, “You have malignant breast cancer,” those words will jolt your whole system. Make sure you have a good support system. Mine was faith in God to get me through it, my family, and friends. On many occasions, my husband would tell me, “We deal with one thing at a time.” This helped greatly. After my diagnosis, I talked with many women whom I knew who had experienced breast cancer. I learned that every single person I talked to experienced a different journey than someone else. I finally had to stop talking to women, as it created fear in my mind. I just want to say that you will get through it. Cancer is a very bumpy ride, to say the least, but you will get through it.
Remember to please schedule your mammogram, as annual mammograms are the best tool for early detection.
The Attitude Adjuster