October 22 is National Mammography Day. As a breast cancer survivor, I want to share my story with you in the hopes of saving lives.
In the U.S., about 1 in 8 women will develop an invasive stage breast cancer in their lifetime, and the death rates from breast cancer are the second highest for women after lung cancer. Breast cancer is also the most diagnosed cancer among American women due to the advancement of high-resolution imaging.
These are some scary statistics! So how do you avoid developing an invasive stage cancer? Early detection is your best bet and that is why you should be diligent about getting your mammogram.
The time I almost didn’t go
On September 15, 2015, my friend Noreen and I had been planning on getting our mammogram together, as we did every year. It had become a yearly ritual for us. We would go for our screening and then afterwards grab lunch together at a nice outdoor cafe. But that morning I told Noreen I didn’t feel up for it, and that I would go in January after the holidays.
My family and I had been transitioning my very fearful, resistant mom into an assisted living facility and it was not going well. After three middle-of-the-night frantic calls from my mom, I decided to postpone my mammogram appointment until she settled in.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Noreen told me. “We go every year, and this year won’t be any different. Get dressed! Let’s go!” And in hindsight, boy am I glad she gave me the kick in the butt that I sorely needed that morning.
Don’t lose sight of your priorities
You might think that other things take precedent over this procedure—family issues, work-related deadlines… But I can tell you with assurance that staying committed to your yearly screening is super important. Early detection saves lives every year. I honestly believe that it saved mine that year.
My mammogram showed six dots on the image, and I was told that these were calcifications. My doctor said there was an 80 percent chance it was not breast cancer, but even so, she recommended that I have a biopsy. I had done this before, so I didn’t think of it as a big deal. But a few days after the biopsy, I was told I had Stage 0 breast cancer in my left breast, and I should do an MRI, which I did. That lead to a lumpectomy and getting tested to see if I had the breast cancer gene.
As it turns out, I tested positive for the breast cancer gene, putting me at a risk of over 50 percent of developing an invasive stage breast cancer. The recommendation was a double mastectomy, which I underwent in February 2016.
Was I happy that I got this news? Obviously not! But if I had postponed my mammogram for four more months until after the holidays, the stage of my cancer might have been more advanced.
Your self-care comes first
This was my second battle with cancer. I was diagnosed with lung cancer eight years earlier. Both cancers were caught in the early stages, and in hindsight, I truly believe that I was meant to detect those cancers early so I would become an advocate for early detection.
You might think that after having lung cancer, I would have been more diligent with my screenings. My lung cancer was detected early and that saved my life. Yet, due to difficult family matters with my mom, I almost postponed my yearly mammogram. How easily we forget to prioritize our own well-being when we get caught up in caring for others!
Here’s what I have learned and want to share: Go get your mammograms! Keep your appointment even if you might feel that you have too much on your plate. The procedure is never comfortable to do, but you can still turn it into a day to look forward to every year by making it a fun outing with your girlfriends or just for yourself! Go for lunch at your favorite restaurant, have a spa day, get a manicure, whatever works for you. Take care of yourself because no one is more important than YOU!