The Complex Issue of Routine Mammogram Screening: a Personal Experience

photo: JParadisi

     I’ve had one mammogram in my life, and it was bad.

     My mammogram was not for screening; it was to diagnose the lump in my breast that  virtually appeared overnight a few days before. The black and grey films revealed a calcification so dense that a needle aspiration came up without any fluid. “Where is your baseline mammogram?”  the radiologist and the technician both wanted to know. “This is my baseline mammogram,” I told them.  “I’m not 40 yet; my insurance won’t pay for a mammogram until I’m 40.”

     The mammogram results confirmed the need for a tissue biopsy. The lump became a tumor, and 10 years later, I am a breast cancer survivor.

     Over the years, I’ve become more philosophic about surveillance labs. If the cancer recurs, it’s likely to find its home in my lungs, bones, brain, or liver, and I would have some tough choices to make. I’ve made lifestyle changes to increase my odds of remaining cancer free. However, while I believe I’m cured, like all cancer survivors, I know I’m out on visa from Cancerland, and my green card could be revoked at anytime. I’ve learned to make friends with uncertainty.

     My serenity is not unshakable though, as I learned when my daughter called one evening to tell me she scheduled a mammogram, because she found a lump in her breast. She wanted me to go with her. Of course I was going, as soon as I peeled my over-the-top-with- anxiety self off of the ceiling.

     The radiologist knew I was a breast cancer survivor and an oncology nurse. He  handled the situation deftly. Introducing himself to me in the waiting room, he requested I stay there while my daughter had the mammogram. He would call for me when he had the results, and explain them to both of us.

     I waited. As promised, I was called in and her films hung on the light board. I sat next to my daughter as he explained the lump was merely a bit of fatty tissue. Fortunately, my left-brain was functioning, and I could clearly see  he was right, even though part of me wanted to scream, “Just take the damn lump out, let’s be sure, this is my daughter!”  He explained her risks for breast cancer, and that she doesn’t need annual screening.  She is more at risk of suffering from too aggressive treatment than from the disease itself.

     Later, my daughter and I discussed my cancer experience, and how it affects her. I offered to go through genetic testing, but she asked me not to.  She will take reasonable precautions, but like me, she chooses not to live in the shadow of cancer.

One thought on “The Complex Issue of Routine Mammogram Screening: a Personal Experience

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