So, I had a mammogram today. And, as always, I left wondering why I tend to procrastinate about that particular test. Though I’ve been having mammograms since I was forty, I haven’t gone faithfully every year. I was six months overdue this time. And there’s no excuse for it. True, it’s not my idea of a fun Friday morning. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but there is no pain. I was in and out of the clinic in less than half an hour. And my insurance pays for one mammogram a year for me. So why do I put it off?
My mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1983, at the age of 51. Her own mother had died of a brain tumor at 54. I watched my mom go through a mastectomy and chemotherapy and it was grueling, though she rarely complained. She continued with the job she loved — secretary/bookkeeper for a family she’d worked for since she was 18 — missing only a few days with each treatment. For the next 20 years she had regular mammograms, often making it an outing with her three sisters. They’d all get their scans, then go out to lunch or shopping. Mother could even make mammograms fun.
In 2003, Mother found a lump in her other breast. It, too, was malignant. Once again, she endured surgery and chemo, with the same courage, grace and even humor that she had shown 20 years earlier. And again, she continued to work. The two-time breast cancer survivor was unable to defeat the pancreatic cancer that took her in August of 2007. She worked through April of that year, wanting to make sure her employer’s tax reports were completed before she left.
Just off-hand, I can think of four celebrities who are recent breast cancer survivors (I know there are many more, but these popped into my head): Robin Roberts, Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow and Christina Applegate. All young, healthy women who were saved by early detection and treatment. According to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, over 182,000 new incidences of breast cancer were predicted to be diagnosed in the U.S. this year. Of those, over 40,000 will die. Because of advances in early detection and treatment, more women are surviving breast cancer. But every woman has to be responsible for her own health.
Mammograms are covered by many insurance policies, but for those who aren’t covered, there are many avenues for receiving reduced-cost or even free mammograms. If you have a family history of breast cancer, if you’re forty or over, or if you meet any of the risk factors outlined so well at the Susan G. Komen Foundation website, take the advice of this habitual procrastinator. Make the appointment.
It takes more than pink ribbons to fight this terrible disease.