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Friday, August 15, 2008

Guest Post #4: A Call to Action

By now I am sadly on my way home from vacation.  But lucky for you Katie from Overflowing Brain agreed to do a guest post for me.  As you may remember I was assigned to interview Katie for The Great Interview Experiment.  You can read that here.  But before you do that, read below.  I had no idea what she was going to write about, but when she sent me this I couldn't have been more pleased.  I think Katie is whip smart and she has a message here that I whole-heartedly stand behind.  So read on...

Mama Ginger Tree put a shout out on Twitter last week for a guest blogger and I volunteered. Because I really don’t want to clean my house and well, it just isn’t a real week in our house if I don’t spread myself too thin. Just kidding. Mostly.

Anyways, I volunteered without having any idea in mind of what I was going to write. You’d be amazed how much pressure is involved in blogging for someone else. If I post something that isn’t funny or thought provoking on my own blog, it’s no big deal, but on someone else’s? It’s a whole new ballgame. The kind that gives you hives and anxiety attacks. Again, I kid. Kinda.

I sat down to think about what I wanted to do here, besides write a 3 paragraph preface to a blog, and I kept coming back to one idea. Most of you probably don’t know me, so this is a good opportunity for me to present this to a different demographic than that of my own blog readers. It’s not going to be exceptionally humorous, but hopefully it’ll make you think, or even better, act.

I’m a 25 year old wife, teacher, student, blogger and well, woman. And I’m here to talk to you on behalf of the woman part of me about something that is near and dear to my heart- boobs.

In the fall of 2006 during a monthly self-exam, I found a lump in my breast. I ignored it 2 solid months before mentioning it to my then boyfriend (now husband, who is in medical school). To say he was a little upset with my intentional ignorance would be a vast understatement. When I told him that my breast had also been leaking he nearly shat a brick, a metaphorical reaction I’m actually getting quite good at eliciting from him.

Eventually with my husband’s nagging insistence, I made a doctor’s appointment for The Lump. My gynecologist thankfully took me seriously and sent me to have bilateral ultrasounds and to a plastic surgeon who specializes in breast issues. The ultrasound report, which we received the week before the appointment with the surgeon, stated that both breasts were normal. We breathed a great sigh of relief, I cannot tell you how wonderful that felt. Now we just had this one last hurdle to clear, the surgeon, before we could resume life as normal again. Before we could safely ignore this molehill on my mountain (ba-dum-chink!)

The first thing the surgeon did was her own ultrasound. Despite my previous pristine ultrasound, her ultrasound showed The Lump rather clearly. And so we took the next necessary step, a biopsy. And folks, it was not pleasant, I’m not going to lie to you. But the pathology came back beautifully benign and the scar is completely clear now. I was diagnosed with fibrocystic (lumpy) breasts and I was told to come back to the boob surgeon in 1, 3, 6 and 12 months post-op just to be safe.

I’m happy to say that the 1, 3, and 6 month checks were normal. Which of course, means the 12 month one wasn’t. After 6 months of no change, The Lump grew back. I could feel it myself, so I wasn’t surprised when the ultrasound showed its reemergence. Only, not only did it reemerge, it changed. It was growing bigger and faster than before. Like a Nike commercial. Only, you know, as a lump in my boob.

We decided not to do anything right away and wait a few months to see what would happen. About a month before my scheduled re-check, The Lump started causing some, um, leakage, and having learned from the last time (see honey, I’m evolving!), I made an appointment right away. The ultrasound revealed what we feared. The Lump was bigger! Growing faster! Much much scarier!

I had anticipated another biopsy, which was well within the realm of things I could deal with. So when the surgeon said “quadrantectomy” which is to say, the removal of an entire quadrant of my boob, I panicked. I panicked so much that I pretty much lost my ability to function, as evidenced by my complete inability to ask questions at the doctor’s office and the “love tap” I accidentally gave another car with my bumper in the parking lot on the way out. Whoops.

Eventually I got myself together (read: I got my husband to come back with me to the doctor) and we got information. We scheduled surgery. On April 22nd, 2008, I had a quadrant of my right breast removed and analyzed. After an excruciating week-long wait, we got the pathology. No cancer. We jumped for joy. Multiple ductal hyperplasias, one atypical. We stopped jumping.

In that one moment, a lot of things changed in my life. I have absolutely zero family history of breast cancer. None. Not a single woman in my entire family tree as far back as we can trace it has ever had a diagnosed case of breast cancer. And yet, at age 24 I got pathology back from a doctor that showed that I had FIVE TIMES the average risk for breast cancer. I was told that every 6 months for “the rest of my life” or “until we find something” I’d have to be assaulted with the ultrasound, looking for changes. I was told it wasn’t so much an “if” as much as a “when.” The words “prophylactic double mastectomy” were shouted out into the void. At age 24.

At age 24 I got a wake up call and a life lesson that I had never anticipated, that I didn’t really want. Through my vigilance, I found a lump. That lump could’ve been left alone indefinitely, but because my husband forced encouraged me to see a doctor, we found out some incredibly valuable information. Because we’re armed with the knowledge of my risk for breast cancer, we can watch for it. We can catch it early if it ever shows up.

I am not the only young woman to be in this situation or to have to face this terrifying reality and I’m speaking on behalf of all those who share in this nightmare with me. I am lucky that my biopsies were non-cancerous. Not everyone is. I’m not writing this to scare you because fear isn’t the key, change is.

Let’s be honest, none of us really want to talk about boobs. And none of us really want to go to a doctor once a year to have them medicinally molested. And I’m completely sure that there’s no woman in the universe who actually wants to have her boob mashed in an x-ray machine or having someone rub cold jelly and an ultrasound wand over them. It’s awkward. What do you say to someone who’s staring at you naked from the waist up?

But I can promise you that for all the awkwardness and uncomfortability in talking about this, being proactive in your breast health is worth it. It might have saved my life and it can save yours.

(Cue cheesy music)

It takes is about 5 good minutes A MONTH. Everyone has 5 minutes a month. I’m working full time, taking classes at night, volunteering at another job and blogging way too often, and I can cut 5 minutes a month out of my schedule to do this. I’m not going to describe how to properly do this exam (THAT would be awkward), but I’m going to give you links galore to help you with it. And if you find a lump, do not wait. I know it’s not pleasant. I know you’re afraid a doctor will brush you off or ignore your concerns. You can’t let that fear guide you. Doctors are not going to dismiss you or your concerns, if they do, you need a new doctor. It doesn’t matter if you’re 23 or 73, your boobs are not things to be fooled around with (medically, that is).

I feel a bit like an infomercial, but literally 5 short minutes each month, 1 yearly visit to the gynecologist and if you’re over age 40, 1 mammogram a year, could mean the difference between stage 1 and stage 3. Breast cancer does not emerge overnight. It doesn’t show up at your door one day out of the blue. It grows slowly but not silently. You can’t stop it, but you can gain the upper hand. But only if you take action- only if you are proactive about your health.

I’m not going to continue to beat this dead horse, I think my point has been made. But in case it hasn’t, go think about the things that are important in your life and consider whether you can spare 5 minutes each month to potentially save your life.

Thanks again to Mama Ginger Tree for this opportunity to stand on my soapbox chat with y’all. Give it some thought, and then tell all the women that are important in your life. Because awkward conversations are a lot better than the alternative.


Melissa said...

This was an excellent post. And you are so very right about all of this. I had a similar experience and early detection was the key.

Thanks for sharing!

Marinka said...

Thank you for the important reminder. I'm glad that you are ok.

Maura said...

Hard to imagine going through that at such a young age. We also have no history of breast cancer in my family, but it doesn't keep me from wondering what the future holds. Thanks for sharing this with us and kicking our butts a little to get us to do what we all know we should be doing!

Carrie said...

it's amazing just HOW many women are affected by cancer; whether directly or indirectly.

this was a great post.. thank you for sharing your story!

anymommy said...

An incredible message. Thank you for sharing it. I am so glad that you are all right and that you will be diligent about your boob health in the future!

Akinoluna - a female Marine said...

One of those things I know I should be doing but never get around to it.