This month is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I’ll admit that I’m not very aware myself, but this terrible disease has affected the lives of dear friends, including two friends who lost their mothers. Last month one of them shared a personal triumph of with me, and allowed me to share it with you. Because her mother died from breast cancer, she’s considered “high risk” to contract the disease herself. Her physician recommended she follow a more stringent protocol of self-examinations and mammograms, in spite of her currently breastfeeding and having a very different lifestyle than her mother did. This is her story:
The ultrasound of a “lump” in my breast came back negative. It’s a perfectly normal lymph node. My doctor was too chicken to call me to admit she was wrong. I had to get the results from the radiologist. The story: My doctor was trying convince me to get a routine mammogram. I expressed my concerns about radiating my healthy (and still lactating) boobs. She started poking around, and found a “lump”. I told her I would do an ultrasound. She said insurance wouldn’t cover just an ultrasound, that I had to get a mammogram too. I told her a mammogram wouldn’t even reach the area where the lump was. (Near the center of my chest.) She said, “That’s what the ultrasound is for.” WHAT?! Ok lady, you suck. I got a call from the imaging office the next morning to schedule my mammogram. I told them I wanted an ultrasound. They said my doctor didn’t order an ultrasound, just a mammogram. I said that’s because she thinks my insurance won’t cover just an ultrasound. “What insurance do you have?” A PPO. “Oh, you can do whatever you want!” Yes. That’s why I have a PPO.
Sure, I could be more “at risk” because my mother had breast cancer. But guess what? My mother didn’t have a family history of breast cancer. Her risk factors were bad diet and no exercise. She had all her recommended routine mammogram radiation exposures – NONE OF WHICH DETECTED HER BREAST CANCER. Based on recent studies, the radiation exposure may have even caused the cancer. She was diagnosed by ultrasound and needle biopsy, after nearly nine months of being misdiagnosed with a breast infection. Her hellish experience with lame doctors, nurses, and HMO bullshit have made me very assertive about my medical care. I’m not anti-mammograms – I’ve already had a “baseline” mammogram. I know in many cases, they have saved lives. But not in all cases. Mammograms have their place, as do all medical tests and procedures. To me, being selective about radiation exposure is just as important as diet, exercise, and monthly self-exams.
Breast cancer is a diverse disease that strikes diverse women for diverse reasons. There is a lot that organizations can do to raise awareness, funnel money into research, and work towards a cure. But their efforts alone won’t be enough unless we all take the time to understand our own personal risk factors, and understand what preventative measures and early-diagnosis tests are right for ourselves. Here are two reputable sites that may be able to help get you started:
This month, please remember all the lives breast cancer has affected.
For E.M., L.H., and Y.F.