Lookout columnist Claudia Sternbach is a breast cancer survivor and reminds us why getting mammograms matters, even though she keeps putting hers off.
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Confession: I am way behind in getting a mammogram.
It is my own fault. I tend to operate under the assumption that no news is good news, so if I don’t want any bad news I just have to avoid scans and X-rays and exams. This, my friends, is stupid.
I have a group of women pals who meet every few weeks to celebrate birthdays. There are seven of us. We have been friends for decades. We are all in fairly good shape. No smokers among us. None of us heavy drinkers. No one is struggling with weight issues. We choose a restaurant and settle in to talk about our kids, grandkids, retirement, Taylor Swift, politics and, of course, gossip. I always feel grateful after one of these celebratory evenings.
More than two decades ago I brought an uninvited guest to the table: breast cancer.
It cast a shadow over everything. “How are you,” my friends would ask, “how are you really?”
How was I? Scared. Not angry, just afraid. My husband was, too. And my daughter, only 9 at the time, was so frightened she wanted to know exactly what I wanted when it came to my funeral.
But I was not going to die. I found the lump early. And even though it was an invasive type of cancer, it had not yet spread. It would be fine. I would be fine. Altered physically, but fine.
It was a rather unpleasant few months getting through the treatment, but spring came and all was well and our birthday dinners continued.
Then another one of the party girls was diagnosed. And soon another. And amazingly, another. At last count, four out of the seven of us have had breast cancer, a fifth was diagnosed with another type of cancer and the husbands of two of the women also were diagnosed with cancer. One did not make it. The other is still struggling, no cure in sight.
One of the women who found a lump in her breast and was told that she had breast cancer watched in horror as both of her sisters were diagnosed as well. Testing showed there was no genetic trait that would have caused this. Two of the daughters of the birthday group also have had cancer. And my younger sister died of cancer. Not breast, but still.
As any curious person might ask, WTF?
I have no answers. Oh I know, pesticides, pollution, plastics, genetics and on and on. When I look at our group’s particular stats when it comes to cancer, I imagine there isn’t a woman on the planet who would want to join our dinner club. And yet we keep meeting and celebrating just being here. Alive. Toasting each other, blowing out candles and sharing birthday cakes.
Not keeping up with my mammograms is like playing Russian roulette. It is a dangerous game. I am an idiot to play it. And so, after coming clean with all of you, I am making a promise to do better. Much better.
As I write this, it is Saturday afternoon. I promise I am going to make a call on Monday to schedule an appointment to go to the doctor’s and let them smoosh what remains of my boobs into the machine until I feel as flattened as a pancake. I will lift one arm, then the other. I will wait in the dressing room wearing the thin, open-down-the-front gown until they tell me it is OK to leave. I will wait for the test results and hope for the best.
I will expect good news, but also know that I can deal with news which may be problematic.
And I encourage everyone to do the same. Make an appointment. Get checked out. Not just women, men too. Because like it or not, your boobies need to be healthy. They are not immune.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the only thing any of us should be frightened of is running out of candy with trick-or-treaters still wandering the neighborhood. Let’s not fear making an appointment that is so beneficial to our health.
I’ll let you know what happens.
Claudia Sternbach is the author of “Now Breathe: A Very Personal Journey Through Breast Cancer,” published by Whiteaker Press.