You got boobs? Love someone with boobs?

It’s October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. My inbox is flooded with pink offers from all kinds of retailers. In an effort to cash in on this annual event and also spread the word about breast cancer, early detection, and saving lives.

“Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women and the second most common cancer overall. There were over 2 million new cases in 2018.” World Cancer Research Fund.

According to the American Cancer Society the new guidelines for breast screening exams are as follows. This chart does not apply if breast cancer runs in your family, then screening begins much earlier. Ask your doctor.

Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast). 45 to 54 year old women should get mammograms every year. Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.

Happy birthday

Every year someone from my HMO calls at the beginning of August and congratulates me on my upcoming birthday. I’m always surprised since I’m always the one trying to get in touch with them, waiting on hold endlessly, being transferred to the wrong extension or department, and eventually being disconnected only to start the process all over again.

I have tried to use the online website and I usually get myself into a loop and can’t figure out what I did wrong and have to input my information and password all over again at least three times before I give up. It can be a frustrating and fruitless experience. But to schedule a mammogram they call me. Early detection saves lives. (Tweet it!)

Back to the chirpy woman from the HMO. I laughed and thanked her. I was ready to end the conversation. That would make a good story. But as I was about to hang up, she invited me to come in for a mammogram. Oh right, that time of year again.

This wasn’t my first mammogram. I had had a mammogram once or twice around my fortieth birthday. But that was before. Before my mother died of cancer, before friends’ mothers had died of cancer, and before friends had died of cancer. Before my cousin and my dear friend have gone through breast cancer. When my children were living at home not going back and forth between their father and me. Or living in another city.

I like my breasts

Haven’t really given them too much thought. The two times they get the most attention from me is bra shopping and bathing suit shopping. I appreciate them for their engineering as I was lucky enough to have breastfed my children for a year each. And smelled like sour milk for the whole time. Very glamorous. My choice as it should be every woman’s choice. But that was a long time ago.

And now, people at parties speak about recent colonoscopies, high cholesterol, and physical therapists, and upcoming back surgeries. Not books they’ve read or places they’ve visited and restaurants that must be tried. If this was getting older, I didn’t want any part of it. Not the talk, not the tests, and certainly not the results.

My boyfriend and I are lucky. We have been together a good long while and are mostly healthy. We look young for our age, but we both need to exercise more and eat less junk. But I don’t worry so much anymore about being alone because I know he will be around when I need him. He offered to go to the mammogram with me and so did my daughter. I declined both offers. I would save those favors for when I really need them.

I’m wondering

Which begs the question, could I be the eighth of nine who didn’t have breast cancer in my lifetime? I doubt it. I check all the boxes when filling out medical forms. Cancer in your immediate family? Check. Heart disease? Check. High Cholesterol? Check. High Blood Pressure? Check. Major surgery? Check.

A dear friend of mine had her own post-fifty mammogram a few years ago and the results were positive for cancer. She had surgery almost immediately, only took a couple days off, and kept working. She didn’t tell very many people, and on the anniversary of her diagnosis, she started an emergency relief fund for other women diagnosed with breast cancer.

I’m a good crisis buddy

I’m the one she calls when she has to do an annual CT or MRI and drove her to appointments when her husband couldn’t be with her. We sit companionably in the offices and wards where the atmosphere is cheerfully stifling. The lights are too bright and the walls are too white. Some of the women looked healthy. Others painfully thin and drawn with headscarves and caps pulled over their ears. Some had moon faces bloated from medication. People spoke in murmurs. The only laughter is ours. And there is never quite enough air.

So the day of my mammogram arrives (early detection saves lives) it’s never pleasant. And don’t let anyone tell you differently it’s like getting your breast smashed in an elevator door and then told to hold still in a darkened room that is too cold. Then the other one and you can’t wear deodorant or antiperspirant or lotion of any kind and you are sweating from every pore in spite of the cold.

Sitting in this waiting area with a group of women I don’t know as we shyly smile at one another and nod knowingly. One by one each woman’s name is called and they filed in with their paperwork. As our numbers decreased, we shifted to the chairs closer to the door. The screenings don’t end with the mammography.

Very often if the film of the mammogram doesn’t come out clean or clear or you are at a higher risk or the policy changes and an ultrasound is back in the basket, you do an ultrasound after the mammogram. Today was one of those days.

I was the last one in the waiting room

The woman doing my ultrasound couldn’t find my records. We tried my maiden name and married name. Then a combination of them both. I explained that I was divorced and changed my name back to the one I was born with. She eventually located my record. We chatted about work, children, marriage, and divorce. As I was getting dressed she told me I was remarkable. And she wished she had as much courage as I did. I thanked her and texted her my divorce attorneys number. Early detection saves lives.

Be kind to yourself.

Now over to you: Are you taking care of yourself when it comes to early detection?

Originally published at www.tamaramendelson.com on October 8, 2018.