Long ago and far away, or so it seems now, we lived in South Carolina. A few years after we landed there, a young couple moved to town, life-friends of my younger brother-in-law. We welcomed them with open arms; friends of family are friends of ours. They were barely out of newlyweddom when baby Dylan arrived. Stephanie and Trey loved him fiercely and completely, the way we all marvel at those firstborn, or let’s face it, every child we call our own.
Breastfeeding was a priority to Stephanie, and like any new mom, she expected to have questions along the way. When she complained to her doctor about a knotty sore place, she readily accepted his plausible explanation: a blocked milk duct (I massaged my way through a few of those painful devils). It was good news that satisfied her questions and concern, but this is what I would categorize as hearing what you want to hear (which is rarely a good thing).
Six months later Stephanie was dead, leaving behind a grieving husband and a son who would have no memory of her. She was 23. Cruelly, cancer cut her life short–six months from diagnosis to death.
My mother was 34 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer; she died at 38. Her mother died when she was 22, cancer again robbing a baby of knowing her mama. My sister is a survivor, creeping up on almost 20 years (thank you, Jesus).
I’ve lived under the Dark Cloud of Cancer Possibility my entire life (or at least as long as I remember). But as aware as I am for myself, taking all the preventive and proactive action I can for early detection and best health, I am even more aware for my daughter. She is 25 and has lived three years longer than her great-grandmother.
Medical opinions vary about when women with family histories of breast cancer should have their first mammogram; one popular suggestion is ten years prior to the diagnosis of first-degree relatives. While my daughter has no first-degree connection to breast cancer, her grandmother and great-grandmother died young, and her aunt endured aggressive treatment for DCIS and a malignant lump.
Here’s the thing: no one wants to have a mammogram. They aren’t exactly painful, but they’re incredibly awkward and contort and smash your body into positions you didn’t know were possible.
Know what I say to that? So what? Get over your fear or dread or excuses. Early detection could save your life.
Continuing a streak of awesome adulting, my daughter recently decided to schedule her first mammogram (she’s a plane-ride away from me so if it’s going to happen, she has to make the effort without me dragging her kicking and screaming). She questioned me about anything she might need to know before she called a local provider, and I explained to her since it’s preventive (and given our family history), it’s covered under her insurance.
The office she called told her she did not need to have a mammogram yet, that she was too young and it wasn’t necessary. Of course, Rachel was thrilled and felt like she was off the hook for now. It was like they had handed her a “get out of jail free card.”
My response was volcanic.
“YOU DO NOT WANT TO GO TO A DOCTOR’S OFFICE THAT SUMMARILY DISMISSES A HISTORY LIKE OURS! FIND ANOTHER ONE! THIS IS NOT A TIME WHEN YOU CAN AFFORD TO BE SATISFIED HEARING WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR! YOU COULD BE DEAD! YOU’RE JUST ANOTHER PATIENT TO A NEW DOCTOR, SO IT’S UP TO YOU TO BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE FOR YOUR HEALTH! DO NOT ALLOW ANYONE TO MINIMIZE YOUR CONCERN!”
or some manner of poked mama bear vitriol.
I want my daughter to benefit from my experience, to learn how to make herself heard when others aren’t listening. It is too damn easy to accept a medical professional’s advice BECAUSE THEY’RE THE PROFESSIONAL. We want to hear the easy, not scary thing. But this I know:
I am my best advocate for my own health. So is my daughter. So are you.
We cannot afford to be passive when it comes to our bodies. We must be brave enough to press in and ask hard questions and resist the temptation to back down if there’s something still disquieting in our spirit. We must speak loudly until we are heard. Doctors are not perfect – one friend helped me put it in perspective by reminding me that they’re practicing medicine and don’t know everything -but if your doctor isn’t listening to you or quickly dismisses your concerns without relevant explanation, find another one.
We’re nearing the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month aka When Athletes Wear Pink; you don’t have to get a mammogram during October, but you DO need to have one if your age and/or family history warrants it. Even if your insurance won’t cover a baseline mammogram, it’s worth it to pay for one. Better yet, be on the lookout for free screenings. Most cities and towns host health fairs at some point during the year where you can receive a mammogram at no cost to you.
Just do it.
/end of rant