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Friday, November 30, 2012

Stop listening to the horror stories.

When I went back to Pennsylvania this summer, my friend Vanessa and I had sent out a mass invitation to everyone back there to try to get together - sort of an informal class reunion. On July 1, we got this message from one of our classmates, Kelly:

Hi amy & vanessa -saw the post u were in town,would hv loved to have met up w/you girls today but I was just diagnosed w/breast cancer & am having a double masectomy on Tues. Please, if you haven't had a mammo yet, please schedule one. I just went for my 1st & am thanking God I did. Its early stages & they are hoping I don't need radiation, let alone chemo. Hv a safe trip back Amy & hope to catch you next time. Xoxo

Kelly graduated with me, so she is my age. I was stunned to get this message from her - because obviously, if this could happen to her, it could happen to me as well. Luckily, her cancer was caught very early and she is doing great now - and I am so incredibly thankful for that.

A few weeks ago, she posted a link to an article about mammograms. Unfortunately, for some reason, the article now seems to have been removed, because I can't find it anywhere. I have tried the link, I have searched for it, I have done everything that I know to do, and it looks like it's gone. Basically, it said that many women do not get mammograms for one ridiculous reason:

Because other women scare us away from doing it.

Seriously? I had never thought about it before. But think about it - when you hear the word "mammogram" what do you think? I know I generally don't think of "a slightly uncomfortable test that only takes a few minutes and could potentially save my life". Instead, I think "OMG it's a boob smasher! It hurts! It takes the 'girls' and flattens them between these freezing cold plates like they've been run over by a truck! It's horrible! It hurts! It's the worst. thing. ever."

Why do women do this to each other? Why do we scare our sisters, our daughters, our best friends - out of getting a test that could save their lives?

Here are some interesting statistics according to breastcancer.org:

  • About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. 
  • For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer. 
  • Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. Just under 30% of cancers in women are breast cancers. 
  • In 2011, there were more than 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the US.
  • A woman’s risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. About 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it.
  • About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.

After reading that now-missing article, doing some research, and talking to Kelly some more, I decided to take action for myself. It's no big secret that I don't have health insurance - which has been the other factor that has prevented me from getting a mammogram sooner. But I had heard about random programs where they could be provided for free. So I started doing some digging - and in less than 5 minutes, I found a program in the state of Kansas. I called the number for information, answered a few questions and found out that I am eligible for a free mammogram and pap smear. I called to make the appointment, and got it set up within less than 2 weeks - had it not been for the Thanksgiving holiday, it probably would have been quicker than that.

I went for the pap smear on Monday, and thought that I was getting the mammogram at the same time - which is why I had planned to write this post then. But, there was a slight breakdown in communication, and the mammogram had to be scheduled on a different day.

Today was the day. I went for my first-ever mammogram - and I did it for a couple of reasons.

1. Because I'm *cough* over 40, and I needed to get it done.
2. To see just how horrible of an experience it actually is to have done.

Let me tell you - relatively speaking, it's probably one of the easiest medical tests that I have ever had done. Ever. The technicians were friendly and amazing and funny, and they made it so easy.

The scans themselves? Painless. Completely and totally painless. I'm not going to lie and say that it was  comfortable, because it wasn't. But it didn't hurt a bit.

Basically, I had to strip from the waist up and wipe off my deodorant. They gave me a gown to wear while they explained the machine and how it would work. Then the one technician got me into position - and no, it was not weird to have someone maneuvering my breast around to get it into the right place. They're boobs, plain and simple. They've been seen by dozens of doctors and nurses before and the tech sees dozens of them every day (not to mention that she has 2 of her own) so I was not embarrassed at all. She got my left one positioned on the plate (which was not that cold), lowered the top plate a bit, scooted things around a bit to get the perfect shot, lowered it some more, I held my breath, and the xray was taken and the top plate lifted. This process was repeated 3 more times, for a total of 4 scans (2 on each side).

All in all, the whole process took maybe 15 minutes, and I was back out the door and on my way home.

Fifteen minutes. Less time than it takes to get a shower on some days.

Some women claim that it hurts so much to have a mammogram. They talk about it as though it is the most painful and horrible thing that they have ever experienced. Maybe I was lucky that it didn't hurt a bit. I've heard that those of us who are *ahem* well-endowed have it easier with mammograms, and that it does hurt more for women with smaller breasts. But still - isn't a few minutes of being uncomfortable worth it?

Maybe it hurts some women a bit - but think of how much having undetected cancer hurts. Think of the surgeries, the chemo, the radiation. Think of the anguish of watching a loved one have to go through all of it because she was too scared to get a mammogram to detect it earlier.

Luckily, Kelly's cancer was caught so early that she didn't have to go through chemotherapy or radiation. Her right side was loaded with microcalcifications and a biopsy tested positive for beginning stages of cancer. She wasn't eligible for a lumpectomy because there were so many spots, so she chose the double mastectomy. She will be monitored forever through MRIs because there is no guarantee that it won't return - but for now she is cancer-free, because it was caught so early. Imagine what her life would be like if she listened to the horror stories and put off getting it done. Her story might have a very different ending.

So please, if you don't pay attention to anything else that I ever write, pay attention to this. If you are a woman who is 40 or older, and you haven't gotten a mammogram, go get one. It's easy. It's painless. It's not scary. And the next time someone tells you that it's horrible, or painful, or terrifying - ask her if she would rather go through 15 minutes of uncomfortable or years of surgeries and treatments because someone scared her out of doing such a simple test early enough to make the treatment easier.

Right there - the most important reason of all for me to get it done.
Because I love my family - and I will do anything in my power to
be here for them.

Kelly - Thank you. Thank you for sharing your story with me, and allowing me to share it here. You are an inspiration to me, and I would not have gone and gotten this done if it wasn't for you. So I thank you, from the bottom of my heart!


  1. Thank you Mom, for taking care of your health. Thank you also for encouraging other women to do so, you are amazing. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2004 after it was caught by a routine pap smear. So many women avoid them because they are painful and invasive...I can safely say pap smears are a lot less uncomfortable than the surgery to remove the cancer is.
    For your friend Kelly, thank you for allowing your story to be able to give other women courage. You are amazing, and I wish you continued good health.

    1. Yes, see, that's exactly my point - the test might be uncomfortable, but I would so much rather go through an uncomfortable test than to have to go through all of the surgery and treatment after it's had time to spread.

      Kelly is awesome for allowing me to do this. She inspired me to get it done, and we both want to spread the word!

  2. Awesome story Amy. Praying all the test come out o.k. Can you post the link to the place in Wichita that gives the grants? I think people reading this would be interested in knowng who to go through. I know we would.

    1. All I did was google "free mammograms in Kansas" or something like that, but I came up with http://www.kdheks.gov/edw/ - it was so quick and easy to do. There are age, income, and insurance requirements, but it never hurts to make the phone call to ask.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, having a few friends who've had to deal with breast cancer and breast cancer scares, I've realized just how important it is, no matter if you are uncomfortable doing it.

    Your honesty is muchly appreciated as always. Sending you and your friend big hugs, thank you for sharing her story xx

    1. You're very welcome - Kelly and I figured that if we could inspire a few others to do the same thing, then they could inspire a few others, and so on and so on.... :)

      And thank you for the kind words - I really do appreciate it!

  4. Routine pap smear - pre-cancerous cells removed and no other treatment needed.
    Mammogram - 2 follow-up mammos and echogram later, all clear (and no it doesn't hurt even if you are not so well-endowed)
    Thank goodness for these quick and simple tests
    Keep on spreading the word

  5. Thank you Amy! It's also important to do self breast exams in the shower (or wherever). You should be more familiar with what your breasts feel like than anyone. The self exam is easy and takes about 2 minutes. I found a lump doing this, had a mammo then a breast biopsy and lucky for me, it was all negative. No prob. But I'm really faithful about getting my annual mammograms! I believe Planned Parenthood is involved in arranging free mammograms, too.

    Pap smears are also important. If the doctor is good, it doesn't hurt at all! I had cervical cancer and had to have surgery, but they got it all. Five years later I had a pap smear at my annual gyn exam and again I had cancer! I chose a hysterectomy, though it wasn't required, and in the end the lining of my uterus was covered with cancer. But I was one of the lucky ones. With that kind of cancer they just take it out! Removed my uterus and I've been cancer-free now since 1993!

    My brother died yesterday from cancer so this is a topic much on my mind today.

    Thanks again Amy. You're the best!

    1. Katie, I am so incredibly sorry for your loss - please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. <3

  6. Thanks for sharing! Thanks to Kelly for being brave and sharing her story too.

  7. This is a wonderful post. 10 months ago my 15 year old daughter found a lump in her breast and the next few weeks of appointments and biopsy's and then more biopsy's were the most horrible of my life. Thankfully she it was a benign mass. Know your body, do self breast exams and if you find something out of the ordinary, go get checked out.

    1. So thankful that it all worked out well for your daughter - that would be so young to have to deal with something that horrible.

  8. Thank you so much for posting this! My sister in law who was just 35 passed away July 16, 2012 from breast cancer. She left behind 4 small children, a loving husband, my son who was very close to her and multiple family and friends that loved her so much. I was pregnant at the time with my second baby. I just wish she could have met my daughter! This is something I think about on a daily basis. Watching her die left me and the rest of us felling so so helpless. Women need to remember to do the self checks too! My sister in laws cancer wasnt discovered until late stages because she used to wash with a puff instead of a wash cloth. And to top it off she was very sick to begin with! Every women out there needs to realize that the younger you are the harder it is to survive breast cancer due to the estrogen that is in your body. Loris (sister in law)type of breast cancer fed off of estrogen, this hormone made the cancer spread and spread fast. She lived a year and a half after being diagnosed. Thank God that we have the kids! Each one of them reminds us of her everyday.

    1. I have breast cancer that has accelerated growth due to estrogen and progesterone but thankfully the docs are able give me meds to slow it down. Breast cancer is very survivable the earlier it is caught!! Ladies get the mammograms and save the Ta-Ta's!!

    2. mrsseese - I am so so sorry for your loss! I too have lost members of my family due to cancer and it's not easy. *Hugs* to you.

      Jean - I hope that you are doing well with your treatment. Best wishes to you!

  9. I am currently undergoing chemo for invasive ductal carcinoma (breast cancer)and trust me I'd rather have a mammogram then deal with chemo ever again. I was not able to get a mammogram when I turned 40 because I was preggo with my 3rd kiddo and then nursed for 2 years. I was going to schedule a mammogram but my dad was dying of cancer (melanoma) then I found a lump. I quickly got a mammogram which was part of the diagnosis process and yes it is painless to have done if you do not already have a mass. The mammogram of my right breast didn't hurt, it was just uncomfortable for about 3 seconds needed to take each picture, my left breast did hurt BUT that was only because I already had a mass in there. Ladies - go get the mammogram, it is not worth it to skip it because you are afraid of the small amount of time it takes and the slight discomfort of the exam. TRUST me having cancer is more uncomfortable and disrupting of you life than getting a mammogram!! I have a blog about my current cancer journey that I invite ya'll to check out http://mycancerchronic.blogspot.com

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and I will definitely be by to check out your blog - I'm just running about a week or so behind right now. :/


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