Thoughts on Mother's Day

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Okay, admittedly, I completely forgot that today was Mother's Day. I haven't seen my mother since Easter (and Christmas before that), so I do have a slight excuse. I will be calling her and my step-mother and my grandmother later today when they're all awake and I will get my mom a gift before I see her next, but I definitely did not get into the spirit of it the way I usually do.

And today's post is going to take a slightly different tone. Most of my readers are women, save for a few men here and there. But all those men know women and so this should be applicable to everyone. I've been trying to figure out how I wanted to go about typing this up for some time and today just seemed like a good day to do it. Consider it my Mother's Day gift to you.

The past month, hell, the past year and a half, of dealing with breast issues has made me realize how incredibly important it is to be proactive about your health. If you are a woman, you have breasts and you need to take care of them. That's the bottom line. I know you don't want to hear this, but I'm stepping up upon my soapbox, so just listen here for a minute.

Whether you are 18 or 80, every single month you should be doing a monthly self exam. The best time to do it is one week after your period (yea, I just said period, deal with it), which is when your breasts are the least tender and when your hormone levels have evened out a little. It's not fun, but it doesn't have to take more than a minute. Though it sounds dramatic, that one minute that could literally save your life.

I found my lump myself. I sat on it for about 2 months before I told The Fiance and another month before I scheduled an appointment (much to his dismay and frustration). I was only 23 and I had no risk factors, and I assumed it would be fine. When I finally saw my gynecologist she took it rather seriously because it did not feel like a typical fibroadenoma (which is a normal breast change, many women have lumpy breasts, it's telling the difference between normal and abnormal lumps that's a challenge), and she sent me for bilateral breast ultrasounds. They showed nothing, but thankfully with my ultrasounds came a referral to a plastic surgeon who specializes in breast lumps. She did her own ultrasounds (she didn't even look at the ones the lab had done) and immediately found what we were talking about.

She gave me my choices, which were to leave it alone a month or two and then decide, or just do the biopsy and get it over with. Knowing my penchant for worrying, I had it biopsied. And yes, it was uncomfortable, but it wasn't terrible. And it was benign. Since then I've been back to that doctor every few months watching and waiting and then when things grew back again, we went ahead an re-intervened. And what we found were hyperplasias that increase my risk for developing breast cancer somewhere between 2 and 5 times the standard risk. And I NEVER would have known that, had I not been proactive about my health. Or rather, if The Fiance hadn't forced me to be proactive about my health.

Having a yearly mammogram cannot be pleasant. I don't know this first hand because instead I've had to disrobe monthly for ultrasounds, but given how many women are willing to take the risk to put it off, it must not be pleasant. The thing is that breast cancer develops slowly. It doesn't just show up one day unannounced. If you get yearly mammograms in addition to your monthly self exams, you can and will catch it early. If you have an increased risk of breast cancer- a family history or one of the other listed risks you really just cannot fool around with this.

Breast cancer found early on a routine mammogram has a 98% 5-year survival rate. NINETY-EIGHT percent. If it's detected after it has metasticized (spread) to another body part, which means you haven't found it early, the 5-year survival rate drops to 27%. Friends, that is a very big difference. It's the difference between a long life and an early death. That's probably the most terrible sentence I've ever had to type, but it is the truth and it needs to slap you in the face because for some reason, women still aren't getting mammograms. There are programs for those without insurance, there are groups devoted entirely to getting you there. There are pamphlets and websites
and races and fundraisers shouting to you about the dangers of breast cancer, and for some reason, some of you are still not getting it done. It cannot possibly be worth it.

If you're under 40 and therefore not getting mammograms yet because your breast tissue is too dense, then your responsibility is to do monthly exams. And as much as it pains me to advocate this because I mega-loathe it myself, you must also do the yearly gynecological exam, so that your doctor can perform a slightly more thorough exam. It's not pleasant (mine's next week, expect a blog with my ranting about that soon) and we all know that, but you have to do it, you just do.

I understand that this isn't the kind of mother's day present you were looking for. It's not wrapped up in a box with a bow, it doesn't sparkle or look pretty. It isn't what you asked for, it isn't what you wanted, but it is what you need. Do it for you, do it for your children, do it for your future and for theirs.


kim-d said...

♥I think this post is a terrific Mother's Day gift, and I thank you.♥

Flea said...

THank you. I see my doc next week and will be asking about both exams. *shudder*