I’m not much of a joiner, never really been one to wear ribbons. I think I wore a red ribbon for AIDs awareness once. Maybe one fourth of July I wore a yellow ribbon to support our soldiers overseas–we have a lot of friends in the military. I don’t have a whole lot of patience with all the pink ribbons that take over stores in October. Really, who needs pink ribbon gel pens? Or a pink mixer for the kitchen counter? Isn’t that going a little too far? (I am, however, in favor of the pink M&Ms, but it’s probably the chocolate, not the pink, that raises them to the level of fan-dom.)
In October last year, I read all the articles about mammograms and early detection and felt slightly superior. Okay, not really superior exactly, but allow me a moment of personal privilege to make a point. I get my yearly mammograms. I’m young(ish) at 42. I have no known risk factors (other than the aforementioned love for chocolate). No one in my family has even ever had breast cancer. I’m planning to die of something fast and painless when I’m 85. I figure 85 is old enough to have lived a long and fabulous life, but not so old as to hate it, yet. Breast cancer is nowhere, not even a distant blip, on my horizon.
Four months ago, in May, two months after my yearly mammogram–which was normal–I found a two inch oblong lump in my breast. I knew it hadn’t been there before, so I called my gynecologist for an appointment. The following day I was at the women’s health center for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. I waited in the tiny closet-like space for the word from the radiologist. He came out to tell me himself…things looked fine. I could come back in six months for a follow-up, but in his opinion, there was nothing to worry about.
I had a book deadline in six days. I was moving my family out of state in seventeen days. I didn’t have time to worry about it, even if I wanted to, so I said to my best friend on the phone on the way home, “I can’t think about this anymore,” even as I thought in the back of my mind that a two inch mass in my breast couldn’t possibly be normal.
Apparently my gynecologist felt the same way I did, because when I went by her office to pick up my records before the impending move, she told me that everything was probably fine, but because I noticed a change in my breast, one that she could feel also, she wanted me to go for a surgical consult. Thank God I had a doctor who listened to me. I’m not sure I would’ve listened to myself.
Turns out, I did have breast cancer. It was found very early, stage 1. But if I had waited, if my doctor hadn’t urged me to follow up, the cancer might not have been so easily treated.
Since July, I’ve had a biopsy, two surgeries, countless doctors’ appointments and I just started seven weeks of radiation treatments. My apologies to those of you who don’t talk about your personal parts but this is the real truth: my boobs are now sort of wackadoo, I’ll soon be sporting a serious “sunburn” from the radiation, and I’ve yet to find a bra I can wear that doesn’t hurt my incision. But…and it’s a whopper of a but…
The doctors say there is no sign of cancer now. I am lucky–so, so lucky.
There are a couple of things I feel like I should say, and now feel I have a right to say, as often as I can. Despite the fact that the first radiologist was wrong, my cancer was detected on mammogram. If you haven’t had one or haven’t had one in a while, please go get one. My next piece of advice is to know yourself, know what is normal for you. And please, please, speak up if you think something isn’t right. Don’t stop questioning until you have an answer. Trust your instincts.
So, in a couple of weeks it will be October. Everybody’s talking about it anyway. You won’t be able to escape the pink. Let it be your reminder. Make the appointment. And just for fun, buy some pink M&Ms and share them with your BFF.