I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t have my first breast exam until I was 44 years old. Even harder to admit is the fact that one of my sisters is a breast cancer survivor and even her life-threatening ordeal didn’t convince me to get myself to a mammographer. Good grief! I’ve personally known six women who’ve experienced the big BC and yet I still refused to see a doctor. Talk about denial. And sometimes, denial can be deadly.
Oh, I did the whole pink ribbon thing, raised thousands of dollars in donations over the years, walked in the Avon Breast Cancer Walk, and did all of the tangential things I could do: I just skipped out on the most important part. The part that could save my life. I even encouraged other women to get exams. What a hypocrite, right?
Why didn’t I get an exam sooner? Because I was afraid to. I wasn’t really afraid of the exam itself — even though I’d heard [very misleading] horror stories about my precious DDs being flattened like a pancake and how painfully uncomfortable the procedure was. Pain didn’t scare me. I’d had seven children! No, what I dreaded most was … getting “The Call.” Yes, getting the results. What if they were bad news? The fear of the unknown had me sweating bullets. I thought I couldn’t face it. Until Betty.
My Breast Friend, Betty
The truth is, I couldn’t face it… alone. It took my friend Betty’s constant urging (well, gentle nagging) to have my first official breast health exam. Betty, a breast cancer survivor herself, knew exactly how important early detection would be. It wasn’t until Betty said, “I’ll go with you. Will you make an appointment if I go with you?” YES! Finally. The safety net that I didn’t even know I needed had been cast. Suddenly I wasn’t quite so afraid! It was practically a magical moment; the weight of fear I didn’t realize I’d been carrying was lifted. I was also very aware that I now was accountable to another woman. Someone who would know when the exam was … I wouldn’t be able to back out at the last minute. I felt a giddy mixture of yikes and yay.
It’s All for the Breast
On the day of the exam, Betty met me at my home and we drove together to the radiology clinic. She kept up congenial conversation about anything and everything other than the impending exam. Betty even held my hand as I waited to be called back. The entire staff was pleasant and friendly. The mammographer herself was extremely professional and kind. She guided me through the process step by step. I’m happy to report that it was not painful and took even less time than I expected. Funny thing is that, once the exam was over, I was still so high by the fact that I had actually done the deed, so to speak, that I wasn’t really seriously fearful about the result. I reasoned that if the results came back inconclusive or would require further attention, at the very least it would likely be early detection* and the odds would be in my favor. I was also comforted by the fact that I knew if I needed her, Betty would be there for me. The pledge was bonded. We were breast friends. Of course, I’m happy to report that the results were clear. After all of the fear, worry, and anxiety I experienced, I was told that everything looked good.
Breast Health According to the Big Wigs:
- Breast self-exams should begin around the age of 20.
- Clinical breast exams, those performed by your OBGYN, should be done at your annual visits starting at the age of 20.
- Mammograms should begin at the age of 40, depending on familial history.
In Micki’s Humble Opinion:
- You don’t have to fear getting a mammogram. I understand and sympathize with you if you do though. I’ve learned that my fears were based on faulty misconceptions and because I didn’t realize the strides that have been made in modern technology.
- The process itself was not painful. And, while I didn’t relish the idea of a stranger touching my breasts; the event was more akin to trying on shoes in a department store than anything I’d actually imagined.
- Asking trusted friends for clinic recommendations helped me feel more comfortable about the process, too. I sought advice from several women in my area so that I could get a fair number of recommendations and increase the likelihood of finding someone on my insurance plan.
- Having a female companion that has already had the procedure done can really alleviate your anxiety or concern. Get yourself a breast friend that will hold you accountable as well as offer you moral support and supply positive emotional energy while you wait for the results.
- Even if your test comes back with abnormal results, it’s important to remind yourself that abnormal does not equal cancer.
- While you’re waiting for results, it can be reassuring to keep in mind that a good 80% of breast tumors are noncancerous.
If you’ve had a mammogram, I strongly encourage you to #BeABreastFriend to other women. Even if you haven’t had a mammogram or haven’t come of age for one, hook up with a breast friend who will keep you accountable. I’ve always known that “We Women Should Stick Together.” But, what this whole experience has taught me is that we women can and should draw upon the strength and experience of other women. It’s amazing really, what we gals can do!
*It’s important to note that I do perform self-exams. In fact, I’ve been familiar with my breasts since my teens. Ehem. And so, I am fairly confident that any significant changes would be evident.
For more information about different types of exams and how to perform a self-exam, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation
For more information about what to expect from your breast exam, visit Doctor’s Breast Exam
Here’s to your Breast Health!