Women know they should take care of their health, but so many of us avoid getting a mammogram like the plague. Research shows only about half of American women get an annual mammography to detect breast cancer starting at age 40. It doesn't help that some experts are saying you don't need an annual mammogram until you're fifty. It's great when you can find excuses to not do what you really don't feel like doing.
You know what bothers me? All the women I know who have been diagnosed with breast cancer were younger than 50. Half of them weren't even 40 but detected a lump while self-examining their breasts. Others have had false positives, but none of them regret finding out what was going on with their bodies. Close to 40,000 women will lose their battle with breast cancer this year in the US alone and I cannot help but wonder how many were diagnosed too late.
Early detection is key for the best outcome possible. You also need to evaluate your risk factors and discuss with your doctor when you should get your first mammogram. Then make your appointment, because if you don't do it right then, you'll forget or find a dozen excuses. Everything in our lives seems to be more important: our kids, homework, after-school activities, deadlines, the supermarket and the list can go on forever. So here's a reminder: if you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of others and all that urgent stuff that keeps piling up and makes you run from one place to another.
What a mammogram is really like
I'm 40 and I have already had 2 mammograms. My first one was at 35, pretty young considering current guidelines but due to my medical history and other risk factors, my doctor wanted to play it safe. All was okay, thank goodness, but I just had another exam this week and realized part of the fear I felt was because I didn't know what a mammogram was really like.
The machine that is used for mammograms? Yes, it's big, It feels cold against your boobs. And it presses hard on each breast to get the best image possible. Depending on many factors, including the time of the month and how dense your breasts are, you will feel more or less discomfort. Actual pain? Not really. Yes, it's not my favorite way of spending my morning, but I actually prefer a mammogram to a blood test. Of course, I've been known to faint when my blood is being drawn, but that's a topic for another blog post. Anyway, if you're really sensitive, just schedule the mammogram for the week after your period to lessen your discomfort. You might need an ultrasound after your mammogram so the radiologist or your doctor can examine certain areas more closely.
Now, let's just be honest. The mammogram in itself is not what truly makes you anxious. In my case, the prospect of finding out something's wrong scares the crap out of me. Not only because I want to be healthy, but because I'm a mom and it terrifies me to get sick. To even think I might not be around when my kids need me can bring on so much anxiety that I would rather not even go there. But life is a constant exercise in overcoming fear and I do believe that knowledge is power, so it's better to just suck it up. Practice what you preach. Woman up. It can save your life, like it has for so many women I know.
I don't care how many false positives there are. All I care is about all the lives that can potentially be saved if more of us get our boobs checked out (by a doctor) on a regular basis. Are you with me?
Useful links to find out more about breast cancer
- American Cancer Society
- Breastcancer.org (has information in Spanish)
- National Cancer Center
- Susan G. Komen (has information in Spanish)
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