Even as a little girl I was never a big fan of pink. I tend to wear mostly blues, greens, and probably way too much black and gray. But on October 1, before leaving for work, I pulled out a pretty beaded pink bracelet and put it on my wrist. I also put on a new pair of pink earrings. And I’ve done the same thing each morning since then. Because once again, it’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’m not wearing pink just to support the cause and heighten general awareness, because really, I doubt if anyone has even noticed my pink jewelry. I’m doing it to remind myself of just how far I’ve come over the last 12 years, and how very lucky I am to be a 12-year breast cancer survivor.
This summer I had my yearly diagnostic mammogram. Diagnostic mammograms are ones where a doctor looks at your digital images while you sit and wait. If the doctor sees something suspicious she can have additional pictures taken immediately. If she’s still unhappy you might get an ultrasound right away. I’ve faced all of those situations — and more — in the past. This time, my experience was rather startling.
In the first years after I had breast cancer I had mammograms every three months, then every six months, until I finally got back to a yearly mammogram. The number of images gradually went down from about twelve (although it seemed like hundreds) to six. But this year they took just four images. I thought the technician had made a mistake and asked to talk to a doctor. The doctor reassured me that not only were all the images normal, but since I am now 12 years out, they only need to take four images a year. I was shocked, happy, nervous, all at the same time.
But mostly I realize that I’m lucky. Lucky that I had excellent medical care and excellent doctors who identified my cancer early. Lucky that I had friends and family who supported me. And lucky that I had access to a wealth of information about breast cancer when I needed it on the internet.
Once the shock and panic begins to fade after an individual first hears the words, “you have cancer,” many people begin looking for as much information as possible about their form of cancer. It took me about a day to get to that point, but once I did, I hopped on the web (and it was much slower then) and began looking for all the information I could find. Some of the sites I used then are still informative, and can be a wonderful resource should you need to find more information about cancer.
My go-to site is the American Cancer Society’s site. They have detailed information about all aspects of cancer. If you’ll soon reach the age for your first mammogram (40 is still generally recommended in the United States) or are older but haven’t had one yet, they have a great page that describes the entire process and what to expect when you arrive for your mammogram.
I’ve also found a wealth of information about many health issues, including breast cancer, at the National Institutes of Health site. under their patient information section. I don’t do a lot of active information-seeking anymore about cancer, but do try to stay attuned to new discoveries and new information through the media. When a new study is released, I’ll generally go to the actual source to read more about it. I’m always eager to learn about new, reliable sources for health information, so would love to hear what your go-to sources are for health information.
And finally, I hope that if you’re over the age of 40 and haven’t already done so, you’ll talk to your doctor about whether you should schedule a mammogram. And if you’re nowhere near 40, I hope you’ll talk to your friends and relatives who are, and ask them if they’ve had their first mammogram.
–LinnieGayl, 12 year breast cancer survivor, 3 1/2 year colon cancer survivor