A mammogram saved my life I there is no question about that. The people who have made it their job to x-ray my breasts are wonderful. I know how important it is to have a yearly mammogram after a certain age.
I did not know at the age of 35 what a breast mammogram was and what was involved with getting one. I thought I was invincible and that there was never going to be a time that I would have to worry about any kind of cancer. So when my best friend, Joan, dragged me by the hand on my 35th birthday to a hair salon to get my first one, I was baffled. It turned out that the salon had allowed a traveling radiology truck to park out back because the owner of the salon had, and later died of, breast cancer and wanted all her customers to have a simple opportunity to get one.
At that time no one I knew ever was diagnosed except my Aunt Lotte, my fathers sister. In retrospect, I now understand that her disease which killed her in one year was a dangerously close relationship for me to ignore. I was immune and brain dead. I was not in denial. I just knew this would never happen to me.
Fine. I like women’s issues and so I did what was recommended and had mammogram taken every two years after that. Once I reached forty I switched to every year. More or less. Maybe eighteen months would slip by, maybe not, but I did the best I could with the time I had to spare. It was never a priority, never a task that I felt pressured to complete on time.
When I was forty seven, a woman in our town a few years younger than me and with children the same age as mine, developed Breast Cancer and did not do very well with treatments. We did not know each other very well before the event but because she needed a bone marrow transplant for complications of her treatments and because I was a bone marrow for my brother when he developed Leukemia, she and I bonded just before she went in for her transplant. She told me that she had gone in for a mammogram right on schedule and that she was declared clear of any tumors. Two weeks later she found a lump and and a year later , after fighting hard, she was dead.
That changed my attitude about schedules in a way that was probably not healthy. I decided that it i did not matter if mine were on time because I believed the tumors would just pop out any rapidly grown at any point they felt like it. I believed I would have to have a mammogram every day of my life in order to be healthy.that every woman that goes through that process knows that do have a very small bone to pick with mammograms and the early detection theory. I hate to admit it but I was five months late for the fateful, Friday the 13th mammogram.
If I had been on schedule, we probably would not have been able to see the lump and then, it would have been an entire year before I came back for my next scheduled routine film. By that time, the whole darn breast drama may have been much more serious than it ended up being. For once, I feel just fine about being a serial procrastinator.I am not the superstitious type. It never occurred to me that there was a reason it was so easy to get a mammogram appointment on such short notice. Every woman knows radiologists are usually booked months ahead, but this time the receptionist fit me in the same week.
Consequently, when I walked into the radiology waiting room on the morning of Friday the Thirteenth of December 2002, and found the place uncharacteristically deserted, I never gave it a second thought. I had my breasts squashed between the clear plastic plates as usual, and also as usual, the technicians made me wait in a tiny room with flowered wallpaper while the doctor read my films. He knocked politely, opened the door, said everything was fine and sent me skipping happily on my way. Come back in one year. Have a nice day.
That Sunday evening I noticed the home phone blinking a message. It was the radiology office asking me to come back for one more x-ray. My husband had picked up the message Friday night when he got home but decided I would be better off not knowing about the call back until the end of the weekend. He is sweet like that. On Monday morning the waiting room was packed. I had to wait to get the mammogram repeated but it was now the sixteenth and clearly not a date to cause concern. I had my breasts squashed again and, yep, something was not right
Grabbing the films, I ran across the street to barge unannounced into my internist’s office. The poor man, who did not yet know his wife was going to file for divorce and wipe all his bank accounts clean, tried his best to comfort me. He poked, prodded and said he would have declared me lump free, but mammograms don’t lie. He set me up with his “favorite surgeon” and as I prepared to take the x-rays over to that office, I morphed from a wounded banshee in the wild, into a numb, sweet lamb finding her name on a slaughter schedule freshly thumb-tacked to the barn door. I should have sent those films via Fed Ex.