My friend Katherine saved my life. Last July we were wandering around Midtown east near our office (we work at the same company), trying to figure out where to go for lunch. Somehow mammograms came up and I confessed that I hadn’t had one since a few months before I got pregnant with Mason. Heather, you’ve got to go get one! she said. Of course I knew she was right. I’m not 40, the recommended age to start getting mammograms–but I’m 34, which is the same age my mother was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And Katherine knows my history as well as I do.
I was dragging my feet scheduling my mammogram because my first one had been so mortifying, and not for the usual reasons (ie. You’re standing there topless while a technician manhandles your breasts and takes images of them). I mean, that part was embarrassing–but it got worse as the testing went on. Turns out, the technician had recognized my photo from a recipe newsletter that I edited and she freaked out. You’re a celebrity! she said. (Um, hardly.) The next time I get my newsletter, I’ll say, ‘I’ve seen her boobies!'” OMG. If this woman was excited to meet me–and, um, “see my boobies”– imagine how she’d handle a mammogram with Jennifer Aniston?!
At Katherine’s urging, I called my ob-gyn as soon as we got back from lunch and scheduled my annual appointment. My doctor agreed that I needed another mammogram so she gave me a ‘script for one. The earliest I could get an appointment was last month because my ob hadn’t noticed anything concerning when she examined me. I marked the date on my calendar and forgot about it. My own mother had discovered her breast lump while she was taking a shower, so surely if my doctor didn’t feel a lump–and I hadn’t felt anything abnormal during my monthly self-breast exams–everything had to be fine, right? Or so I thought.
The day before I left for BlissDom, I got the mammogram. I had been sitting at my desk all morning trying to think up excuses to reschedule the appointment. I had a million things to do and I was positive I was fine. Why waste the time? Then I thought of Giuliana Rancic. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall, and she hadn’t noticed a problem prior to her mammogram. She hadn’t wanted to go get the test either, but she did and it probably saved her life. So I went through with it.
Nearly a week went by without a call from my doctor, so I assumed I was fine. They always call quickly if something is wrong, my mother assured me. Just put it out of your mind, you’re fine. Then my doc called to tell me that there had been a “finding” on my mammogram and that I needed to go back for a sonogram. I did as she instructed. Nothing showed up on the sonogram but it did show up once again on a second mammogram (which is apparently common with some masses)–and it turns out the finding was suspicious. The timing of all of this totally freaked me out–like I said, I’m the same age my mother was when she had breast cancer.
The radiologist ordered a needle biopsy, which I had done this past Tuesday. I’m not going to lie, it sucked. It was invasive and painful. The mass is right next to my breast bone, and I’ve been sore and bruised all week. But it was so worth it: About an hour ago, my doctor called to tell me that the mass they discovered isn’t cancer (thank God) but it is precancerous, so I’ll need to have surgery to have it removed.
It’s cliche, but I feel like I dodged a bullet. Thank God I listened to Katherine. Thank God I have her as my friend. And thank God I don’t have cancer. To me, the biopsy yielded the best possible outcome. I’ll have this thing removed from my right breast–soon–and I won’t have to think about it anymore. And I’ll have a constant reminder (a scar) to take care of myself, which is something I forget to do sometimes now that I’m a busy mom. Get rest and exercise. Eat healthfully. Stop worrying so much. Stress less (my biggest challenge).
Seriously, if you have a family history of breast cancer–or you’re 40–schedule that mammogram. It’s just not worth it to take the chance. If not for you, do it for your kids.
Photo: Breast cancer awareness ribbon via Graphic design/Shutterstock