Facing My Health History

Tomorrow, I’m getting a mammogram. I’m 40, so this is the year that all starts for me as far as traditional recommendations go. This isn’t, however, my first one.

My first one came 14 years ago (and yes, I did have to use the calculator to do the math quickly on that one) when I found what turned out to be a benign mass during a monthly self-exam. I actually questioned the doctor when he wanted to do one, because I’d done my research. Won’t my breast tissue be too dense for you to see anything, I asked? Sure enough, the mammogram showed nothing, so I then had a breast ultrasound.

When the doctor sends you for a test and says he’ll call with the results unless, and hahaha this won’t happen, there’s something wrong, and then you get the test, and the tech comes back and says wait here, the doctor wants to see you to discuss the results, that sucks.

I was feeling pretty smug about it, however, since the doctor hadn’t even been able to feel what I felt and since he kind of there-there’d me when I questioned him for ordering the mammogram instead of going straight for the ultrasound.

Having something show up on the ultrasound validated me, which I realize is very much a cut the nose to spite the face feeling to have when you’re talking about masses in your breasts. I also got a there-there from the surgeon who did the biopsy when I asked about which type of test he would be performing on the tissue, but anyway …

Long story short, I was right that there was something there, and lucky that it turned out to be nothing.

One reason—probably the only reason—the doctor even took me seriously when I said I felt something and he couldn’t feel it is my family history. My mom’s first bout with breast cancer came at 42 (and her 2nd at 55, which was over 11 years ago and she’s still here, thriving). Her (also still going strong) sister’s first, at 26. Their mother made it much later, but she got a fatal trifecta of what doctors sometimes call “female cancers,” a phrase which always makes me think of Saturday Night Life feminine hygiene product ad spoofs.

In the scheme of things I worry about on a regular basis, breast cancer is actually fairly low down on the list. I don’t want to sound either blasé, because I don’t assume that it can always be treated and overcome, or fatalistic, because while I do feel fairly comfortable with the knowledge that we all die, I also would like it to not happen terribly soon. I’m more worried, though, when it comes to my health, about chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, or rare syndromes that nobody knows how to manage or treat, let alone cure.

I hadn’t thought in a long time about the circumstances surrounding my mother’s first discovery and diagnosis. I didn’t think about it when I called to make the appointment. I thought a little about it when I noticed, while I was doing a visual self-exam in the mirror (no shirt, hands up over the head, start adding that to your monthly ritual), that I’ve lost enough weight that now the breast which had the procedure is flat across the bottom (which I guess is a results of a void after they removed the tissue).

Only a few days ago did I have the I had a ka-thunk/anvil drops on head moment. She lost weight, perhaps about 40 pounds, and only then was she able to feel the lump in her breast.

She was 42. I’m 40. I’ve just lost 37 pounds. I’m an overachiever, constantly early for things.

Makes you think.

I hope that my breasts are no longer too dense for the mammogram to be a useful diagnostic tool, but I’m preparing myself for a call or email about inconclusive results just in case. I don’t want to panic. I want to feel good about taking better care of my health.

I just needed to write this down and see how it felt, and as I suspected, it feels less scary now. Thanks for listening. I predict that tomorrow, when I actually get the procedure, I’ll be more annoyed by the fact that I’m having to leave the house without deodorant to go to a place that will be lousy with treacly pink ribbon crap.

(Pink ribbons make me pretty crazy. Please don’t worry if you find comfort or strength in them, because I don’t think any less of you for that. It’s the pink-washing and industry that has sprung up around them that puts my engines into overdrive. That is also the reason that this is the one organization I do anything with. I’m part of the Army of Women, ready to participate in any research project that needs me. Join me!)

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4 Responses to Facing My Health History

  1. Rochelle says:

    I am happy to hear that your previous scare turned out to be nothing….but I can imagine how scary it would be to be faced with a diagnosis at such an early age. I don’t have breast cancer in my family history but just about everything else, so I get that as we get older, we almost wait for the inevitable to happen. I’m turning 40 this year and you remind me that now, more than ever, I need to start taking my health into more serious consideration. Thanks for the wake-up call. I have been slacking, and it needs to stop.

    • Andie says:

      I’m just going to focus on controlling what I can control, being realistic about what I cannot, and advocating for changes that will make it better/easier for everyone. It is sad that in many ways, my biggest fear is not getting sick (with cancer or anything else), but going broke paying for getting sick. But this is such a nice little blog, and we all have created so much positive momentum in supporting each other. I won’t get myself started on healthcare, insurance, etc. 😉 Thanks for commenting. I have to say that I crack up every time I read the title of your blog!

  2. That kind of family history does call for diligence and it sounds like you do a great job paying attention without being obsessed over it. I hope by now you have gotten your results and they are fine. Before I was 40 I felt a lump in my breast. I sort of just tracked it for a while, trying to see if it changed with my period. My husband once noticed it accidentally. After a few months I had my regular appointment with my Gyno and she felt it when I showed her where it was; she sent me for a mammogram. And, sure enough, my breast were too dense to see anything. It was so frustrating to feel the darn thing but not see any evidence. Eventually they found it on ultrasound but only with a special tool. It was small. I had it removed and fortunately it turned out to be nothing.

    • Andie says:

      Glad you had a similarly non-eventful experience. I didn’t think to ask how quickly I’d get results, but they did not do any extra images, which I hope is a good sign. It seemed like the machine was less painful this time, too, which was a pleasant surprise. And, the facility was shockingly pink-free, which I really appreciated. It just felt like a normal doctor’s office.

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