Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Get your mammograms, and feel yourself up

Originally, I set up this blog as a way to keep my family and friends in the loop about my treatment. I dislike talking on the phone and the thought of making and answering numerous phone calls giving the same details repeatedly seemed like one of the more unpleasant side effects of cancer. A blog is a clean and simple way for people to get the information they want - without bugging me or interrupting my nap.

Guess I'm not a people person.

It appears that more than my personal acquaintances have found this blog. It's gratifying to know that I have regular readers who like my writing and/or are interested in hearing about my experience with cancer. More than just letting family and friends know I'm alive, I hope it helps other women who are coming to terms with their diagnosis to know that you can get through it with your self intact.

Well, mostly intact anyway.

Although I have strong opinions about certain subjects, I never intended this blog to get political, and since I don't intend to live in Cancer World forever, you won't see me going on pink walks or urging people to raise money for breast cancer. (My favorite charity is still the Make-a-Wish Foundation.) I'm certainly not going to make the rest of my life about this disease. When I'm done with treatment, this blog will be done too.

Unless somebody pays me. Then all bets are off.

So, I was thinking I would ignore the news about the government recommendation that women not get mammograms until age 50, and oh, by the way, self-exams do no good.

But, then I realized I did have something to say about this.

Dear Government Advisory Board: What the FUCK are you thinking?

Excuse my French. Or, perhaps that's what they are thinking? They are urging women to surrender, like the French.

I am 51. I found my lump one month after turning 51. Guesstimates are this cancer has been growing in me for 8 years or so. Had I gotten my mammograms, as my insurance company kept nagging me to do, it's possible I would have found this in my 40s. It's possible I wouldn't have needed mastectomy or chemotherapy either. I might have gotten away with a lumpectomy, a month of radiation, and then gone about my life, boobs intact, and never having had the experience of shopping for a wig.

I have 7 years of treatment ahead of me. At what I can only guess is considerable cost to my insurance company.

My choice not to get mammograms was my own. I made my bed, and I'm lying in it, and not very comfortably after tissue expander placement, I might add. I had my reasons, and I don't regret it. However, not having mammograms was MY CHOICE. If that choice is taken away from millions of women and they cannot get mammograms, many will find their cancers at a later date, causing a situation such as I'm experiencing. Or worse. Much worse. Many will already have metastatic disease, and will die.

Mammography is not perfect. I have dense breasts - the test doesn't work that well for dense breasts. After my main cancerous lump became large and I had my mammogram, it did see that lump. It saw none of the other tumors lurking around. It's possible that had I gone in my 40s, my mammogram would have shown nothing. I recognize that fact.

But the opportunity should be there. In fact, my recommendation, which would be far too sensible for any government bureaucrat to make, would be to give women with dense breasts a sonogram in addition to their mammogram - 100% of the time.

The argument that women suffer from frightening experiences with mammograms, or suffer needless biopsies that cause them extreme stress and therefore these tests should not be done is incredibly insulting. It harkens back to the Victorian age. Women are strong enough to take a little pinprick, I promise you. If we can get our breasts cut off, lose our hair, have radiation to our bodies, have poisons pumped through us for months at a time, while raising children and going to work - AND do it with the grace and humor I have seen displayed by my new cancer buddies - then they can handle a squished breast and a needle removing some tissue.

Women are not delicate little flowers that require smelling salts if somebody speaks, um, French.

So, what is the purpose of these new guidelines? A skeptic might say this is the beginning of Obamacare and government-rationed health care. Leave it to the government to try to save a little and end up costing a lot. These are the people who run FEMA and the IRS after all - they are not going to do what is best for you or the bottom line. They are going to do whatever the special-interest group that pays for their latest Hawaiian trip wants.

Been able to get your H1N1 flu shot from your doctor yet? Hmmmm??

This advisory group also based their recommendation on old technology - not the new digital mammography. How quaint and government-like. Can you say mainframe, anybody? Cobol? I thought you could. Sensible people would recommend that digital mammography would be the way to go, not that women shouldn't get any mammograms.

My understanding from a friend who lives in the UK, is these are the same guidelines that exist in Europe - where the death rate of breast cancer is much higher than here in the US.

I am sure these guidelines will not be followed - not as long as we have private insurance anyway. Insurance companies will reject them as it is far more costly to treat invasive and/or metastatic cancers than early cancers.

But, if this recommendation is ever implemented - listen up. I have a work-around. The recommendation is that if you are under 50, you should discuss the need for mammography with your physician, and then he can set up the test against the new guidelines, if he thinks you will benefit.

I recommend you woman all lie and say you have a sister or mother who has had breast cancer. That immediately puts you in a risk group, and you'll get your test.

If you need a sister/mom stand in to vouch for your honesty, I volunteer.

I have no problems lying to the government. Except on my tax return, of course. I'd never lie on that.

So ladies. Feel yourself up, early and often. Get your mammograms. And, if you have dense breasts and have been told that mammography doesn't work well for you, as I was told - then insist on a sonogram. Make a scene until you get one. Lie if you have to. I had no idea until I had a lump that breasts could be sonogrammed to find cancer, or who knows, I might not be a uniboober right now.

Now excuse me, I'm going to go practice my French.



  1. Well said! I have no family history of breast cancer. I nursed my baby. I have no weight issues. I don't smoke. I had my first mammogram at 39-1/2 after pressure from my obgyn and yearly birthday card "reminders" from my insurance company. I became a "uniboober" at the ripe old age of 40 years and 4 months, but I got to keep my hair AND remain un-radiated (if that is a word) due to early detection.

  2. I had my first mammogram at the ripe age of about 33 after a malfunctioning breast. My doctor didn't even examine me before sending me for a squished boob test - and for a AAA cup, it's difficult to do a mammogram. Thank goodness, I didn't have cancer. But an MRI showed a pituitary tumor instead. I still have the tumor and from time to time I still have the leaky breast. Which on top of that now itches to high heaven. But I still have two mini-boobs.
    Get your mammogram. If Ann can tell the doctor she's your mom, sister or grandma - I will.

  3. Amen! My first mammogram at 37 (diagnostic) and subsequent biopsies revealed stage 3 cancer...I was refused mammograms for 3 consecutive years because I was "too young" and have no family history. I now tell all my girlfriends to lie about their family history (after all, 85% of breast cancer patients have NO family history of it) and if they're under 40 and want a mammogram I tell them to lie and say they felt a lump since no US doctor wants to be sued for not ordering a test to investigate a lump. Enough is enough. That task force can shove their new guidelines up their colons.

  4. I am 41 and live in the UK - where mammograms are offered from aged 50. Although I had a 6cm tumour the diagnostic mammogram showed nothing. It was the ultrasound that confirmed my fears. I would just urge all women to check themselves and go with their gut instinct. If you feel anything abnormal then get it looked at.


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