No Guilt Mammogram

by Val

Someone reached out to me this week and with her permission I am sharing her message. I’m sharing it because it gives a view into what a mammogram experience can be like. It also gives me an opportunity to talk about being a “cancer friend”. Here’s what she shared.

“When we spoke recently I told you I had decided to finally break down and get a mammogram. It was two weeks later before I actually called to schedule it. Now that I think about it, I didn’t even call to schedule it. My friend works in the hospital scheduling department and called me at work one day to ask me a question. I said, “Hey, while I have you on the phone I’ve been meaning to text and ask you…..” To which she replied “I have an opening at 5 this evening. I’ll put you on the schedule.”

I kind of stuttered over myself. I think this was devine intervention because if I’d had a week to think about it I probably would have cancelled. I would have found reasons like I didn’t want to leave work, I was too busy or something else like that. I didn’t have time to think about it so I go that evening to have quite the intimate experience with a nice lady I’d never met before.

I don’t have a primary care doctor so I chose to have my results sent a medical professional I work with. I figured I should give him a head up that he would be getting my results but he already knew when he saw my name on his patient list the day I got the mammogram. He told me he would look at my films later in the day. “No problem. I don’t have anything to worry about.” I think to myself.

Not long after that I hear him hollering my name down the hallway. He doesn’t like to use the intercom. I walk to his office where he proceeds to tell me there is something on one of my films. He’s not a radiologist so take it for what it’s worth but he doesn’t think it’s anything. He orders a STAT ultrasound. I get a call from scheduling telling me they got his order but the radiologist has ordered another STAT mammogram with possible US (ultrasound). I convinced myself I wasn’t worried or nervous. It was just another mammogram.

I arrive for the mammogram and everything is the same as before. The tech takes a round of pictures and tell me to have a seat while they make sure it all they need. She comes back in and say the radiologist wants more pictures. We repeat the process and I am told to have a seat again. At this point I am thinking WTF and I’m starting to lose my shit a little inside. She comes back and says that was the last round of pictures but the radiologist is going to come out and talk to me.

Excuse me? Alright. I text my friend that works in the Rad dept and ask her if this is bad. I get a glimmer of hope when she says no, he talks to everyone before they leave. The doctor finally comes in and apologizes for all the pictures but wanted to make sure it was what he thought it was. “Well what the hell is it?” I ask. It’s just a lymph node but because they didn’t have anything to compare it to he had to take all those pictures to be sure. I told him it was okay because I’d rather him be sure than not. But inside I was thinking damn could you not have told me that during the process?

“I held it together until I got to my car. All I could think about was all of these women who are my friends, both younger and older than me, that have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t want to join that sisterhood. I felt guilty for that. After I got the almost all clear I was so thankful. I felt guilty for that.”

This happened right after you (Val) had your mastectomy. So that’s why it’s taken me awhile to share but I wanted to thank you for sharing your story with us. I’m not sure I could if I were in your shoes. But because you did I got my first mammogram at almost 43, and got the crap scared out of me. But now I know and I know I need to go every year because of this. So thank you. Thank you for sharing, for being open, and vulnerable and honest. You very well could have saved my life or the life of another woman in your group.”

Let’s dig into my friend’s message a bit more. From a process standpoint it highlights:

  1. If something is seen on the mammogram then more than likely more pictures and possibly an ultrasound is going to be ordered. When I went to my OBGYN looking for a diagnostic mammogram she told me upfront that if the mammogram showed something they would immediately do the ultrasound so they could get more information. As seen in my friend’s story, if that happens it doesn’t necessarily mean doom and gloom. It gives them a good baseline to check future mammograms to.
  2. Even with positive results there can be what Carl calls the “gas, brake, gas, brake” phase. Things go real fast then screech to a halt. That cycle can repeat many times. If you feel like that’s the cycle you are on it still doesn’t mean that the news is bad. It wasn’t for my friend.

In October I put out a call to action on Facebook for women to get their mammograms with a goal of getting at least 15 women to get theirs. We exceeded that. When someone tells me that they got their mammogram I am proud of them. It’s easy to put off our routine exams and bury our head in the sand to any potential issues that we think don’t exist if we don’t know about them. I got my first mammogram at 41. Tammy had been pretty consistent with prompting me to get one every year since I was 38 because breast cancer has touched her life more than once and she is passionate about it. Every year I would remind her that I wasn’t 40 yet! Somehow I snuck past her on my 40th birthday but in my head I could hear her voice asking if I had it scheduled as I approached my 41st birthday so I scheduled it. She may have very well saved my life.

I understand the guilt described in my friend’s message. I’ve felt it too. I felt it Tuesday when I heard of Davina’s passing. I want you to get your mammogram. I want you to get back good news from it and I want to celebrate that good news. It makes me happy.

My second mammogram didn’t come back with good news. I’m not resentful about that. Good things are coming out of this. I’m on a road to being even healthier than I was before. I’m sure we all could benefit from being healthier. I don’t want you to be pushed to this extreme to make that happen. Get your regular check ups, reduce stress, eat better, exercise, laugh, love and heal. Any of those will help. I want you to do better before you are forced to and there’s no guilt in that.

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