Angela’s Corner: Mammograms

2013-09-01_16-22-26_148Both my maternal grandmother and mother have had breast cancer multiple times. My doctor suggested I start mammograms ten years prior to the first onset. My mother’s first diagnosis – the earliest onset – was at forty. I figured twenty-nine would be a good age to start my baseline. How many 29-year-olds do you know going in for annual mammograms? Not many, that’s for sure!

Hearing horror stories of how painful a mammogram is, I was nervous and scared for my first exam. Thankfully, the technicians were warm and friendly, easing the nervousness I felt. The “squishage” was minimal and, at times, painless. I came to not fear the mammogram, just the results. I was all too familiar with what could happen.

A couple years after my initial mammogram, my doctor found a few small lumps during her exam. “Could be cysts,” she thought. “Let’s get them checked out anyway.” A mammogram and breast ultrasound followed determining they were, indeed, cysts. Cysts, as I was told, are common in young and dense breast tissue. I was informed by the radiologist to stop worrying, and even to stop doing self-exams if I was going to continue to fret over small lumps. My primary care doctor had different views on that (as did I) and asked me to come back in a year. No problem; I was getting use to these annual mammograms.

Another year later, I had to change my primary care doctor, new lumps were found, and a new radiologist was assigned. This time, calcifications were caught on my images. The typical response would be to wait six months to see if the changes continued, but since I had previous images without the calcifications, the changes were easily determined. If I did not have images from the past four years, I would have had to wait longer.

Mammograms are an essential part of early detection in breast cancer. Without my mammograms, my calcifications would have never been detected until I could physically feel a lump. By that time, the cancer would be more severe. I’m happy with being proactive with my medical care. I have made sure I was in that mammography room once a year because of my family history. I had an unfortunate outlook on life since I was young. I never said “if” I get cancer, it was more “when.” I wasn’t going to let cancer take over my life; I was going to beat cancer at the first detection.

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