Choosing Discomfort Over Disregard to Save Your Own Life

a mammogram machine taken by themozhi via Flickr

This is a story about not having cancer.

After my recent, regular, biennial mammogram, I was called back for another one and an ultrasound. The doctor noticed a shadow in the tissue of one breast and asymmetry, both of which were new results. So, they booked me again at the Ontario Breast Screening Program at St. Joe’s in London a few weeks later.

I tried hard not to Google anything but I eventually searched WebMD. A shadow could be a collection of cancer cells that haven’t yet formed a lump or tumor. Sudden asymmetry can indicate future cancer risk. So I did what any woman would do when she’s been told her breasts are now different sizes. I went to my in-house doctor for a second opinion.

Me: Does one look bigger than the other?

Husband: Not that I can see. They look the same to me.

Me: That’s what I think.

Him: Hmmmm. I don’t know what to tell you.

Me: I guess I’ll put my shirt back on. Thank you, doctor.

Catching breast cancer early, when it’s easiest to treat, is the whole point of getting regular mammograms. The program accepts Ontario residents ages 50-74. You can book it yourself. No need to wait for a doctor’s referral. I make a note and call a couple of months early, because they are busy and booked up weeks ahead.

It isn’t unusual to get called back for more testing. It happens often for different reasons. And it’s always a nerve wracking. What if they found something this time? I’d been called back once before but never given specifics like these. It jangles the psyche. But every time my mind wandered to dark places, I’d take a couple of deep breaths and bring myself back to the present. In the moment, there was nothing to worry about. After all, finding something – if something is there – is the whole point. I focused on gratitude. On the off chance that something bad is there, it’s growing whether you know it or not. So why not get a jump on it?

A couple of women I’ve talked to have said, “I really should get a mammogram. I keep putting it off.” It’s briefly uncomfortable, no question. But most women have good results. And most breast growths aren’t cancer.

We are so fortunate to have health screenings available without paying out of pocket. Yup, it’s not perfect. (Far from it.) But this program is excellent and it’s all about the girls. (Or for men, the upper boys.) The experts involved don’t do anything else but work to keep breasts healthy and find those that aren’t. Doctors there can do a biopsy on the spot if it’s warranted. Or send you for further testing. They know that waiting is agonizing.

I had my follow-up mammogram and the longest, most intense ultrasound I’ve ever experienced. Also, I noted that the second mammogram tech was better in every way than the one I had previously. The first one phoned it in. When they do it right, they woman-handle your breasts and pull every tissue they can into the machine. You need someone who’s focused and a little intense. The first tech seemed apathetic. I was the first patient of the day. Maybe she hadn’t had coffee. I wondered whether this is why “asymmetry” resulted. Maybe she hadn’t stretched both girls all the way in.

Finally, I got the all clear but they’d like to see me twice as often as before. So, I’ll go once a year now and submit the girls to the pancakery. And I’ll be grateful for it.

We wear the pink ribbons and donate to the walks and runs. Every one of us knows a woman who has had this disease. But we need to consider ourselves, too. Men and women. both. Most of what we worry about never comes to pass. But if it does, the worst words to hear would be, “if only you’d gotten checked sooner.”

12 thoughts on “Choosing Discomfort Over Disregard to Save Your Own Life”

  1. This is all so true. I too have had a scare! Here in Mexico actual doctors do the ultrasounds and are very thorough asking questions about previous testings, etc.

    Glad everything is good.

  2. You write about the very important reasons for screening. Of course, no one wants to hear they need to come back or need a biopsy or the worst – it is cancer. I think some women are scared that they may be diagnosed with the news they fear. Indeed, we are so blessed to have this health care system. Thanks for bringing attention to an important topic – early diagnosis.

    1. I’m sure that’s why they’re scared. But cancer doesn’t care whether they know it’s there or not, right? It will still grow. Thanks, Pam.

  3. Right on, Lisa. When I had my first pancake squash, I needed a biopsy because of what turned out to be calcium deposits. My thoughts at the time were, well, if it is cancer, at least they caught it early. Our health care system has many flaws, but the breast screening is not one of them. I get my regular notifications, call, and off I go.

    1. That must have been frightening! Meantime, I have a large lump on my back that no one has been able to identify. It isn’t a lipoma, or fatty deposit, as so many are. So far two doctors have refused to biopsy it. No one thinks it’s cancer, but they don’t know what it is. If it was on my front, I’m sure I’d know by now!

  4. Besides being in-house doctors, what else can men do to support the women in their lives? Encourage them to get checked out? Anything else?

  5. My rational mind hears you, but really, honestly can’t they invent a better machine to scan you. I always feel so manhandled. I’ve had a cyst drained and a lumpectomy( no cancer!) and I dread going every time. What next I am thinking. Covid was my excuse to avoid hospitals for 2 years but I am due for another appointment… sigh

  6. Claire C.
    I just booked today and got an appointment for July 7th., so not too long of a wait. You’re right Lisa, we are very fortunate to be able to get these tests done without having to worry about the cost.
    Thanks for sharing your story and inspiring those who may have been putting it off, to pick up the phone.
    I’m glad everything worked out for the best with you.

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