Jaunty Post

October is breast cancer awareness month. Coincidentally, earlier this month, I had my first mammogram. They had the waiting room all decorated for Breast Cancer Awareness month, which made it seem festive and fun. I was excited to get it out of the way. Not because I have any sort of masochistic  tendencies (I save all those for my writing), but because I thought it might be an ordeal and wanted to get it out the way. Turns out, I was wrong. Nothing exciting. They didn’t even call me back for any follow up tests. Turns out my ta-tas are completely unexceptional.

This surprised me because the women in my life have a history of lumpy boobs. My great-grandmother, grandmother, and my sister all had lumps that had to be investigated (but none were  anything to worry about, thank goodness!). So I figured I was in for more of the same. Those “establishing a base line” tests can be a pain. Five years ago, when my sister had all her baseline stuff done, she went through months of testing. She would deny this, but she’s a bit of a drama queen. After the first mammogram and the sonogram, the doctor wanted to do a biopsy. My sister waited six weeks to have it done so that she could have “one last Christmas” with her kids.

I’m not even joking.

That’s how convinced she was that she had breast cancer.

She waited six weeks to have the test. She had that “last Christmas.” She went in for the test only to discover that she’s perfectly healthy, but should maybe drink less caffeine. Don’t get wrong, I’m glad she’s fine. (So, so, so glad. Seriously. Very glad.) But at the same time, I kinda wanted to slap her upside the head. She spent six weeks worrying, believing the worst, when she didn’t have to. If she’d just had the test to begin with, she could have saved herself all that fear. All the angst. That terror.

But people are funny about having tests done. So even though I wanted to slap her upside the head, I get it. I do.

Just about a year ago, we lost my mother in law to pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is one of several related cancers. Prostrate, colon, ovarian, pancreatic–they’re all linked. Pancreatic is one of the worst. The symptoms are mostly silent. By the time it’s diagnosed, it’s probably too late. That’s how it was with my mother-in-law. One day, she’s relatively fit, totally active with minor digestive problems. The next she’s in the hospital for something else entirely and they find the tumors. Six weeks later she was gone. None of us were even remotely prepared.

But here’s the weird thing … about a year or so before she was diagnosed, she finally retired. (My mother-in-law had a work ethic like you can’t imagine. I mean, Siberian minors worked less hard.) So, she finally retired. She and my father-in-law bought a RV and traveled around the country. They stopped at our house on their way to their great tour of Southern BBQ joints and spent a few days here with us.

I have this vivid memory of standing in my bedroom with her. I mentioned how glad I was that she’d retired and that they were taking this trip. Something about her expression as she answered made me pause whatever I was doing and look up.

She said, “Well, I’m sixty-eight and I don’t know how much time I have left. My mother died when she was seventy-four.”

I remember thinking that that was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. My mother-in-law was strong and fit and full of life. A month before she was diagnosed, she came and stayed with our kids while I was at a conference. She was the most fit of all four of our parents. And the youngest of the four, too! But I remember so vividly what she said and to this day her words haunt me.

Pancreatic cancer is a silent killer, but did she know? After all, she’d lost her mother to cancer. And she had had years of digestive problems. Maybe on some level she did know.

But you know, here’s the thing about women–and I know you know this already–but we tend to put other people first. My father-in-law has a laundry list of health problems. Taking care of him was a full time job and I’m sure there were times she should have taken herself to the doctor but she took him instead. I know she did that. My mother-in-law was tough, but she was a care giver.

As I sat in the waiting room for my first mammogram, I thought about her and about how important early detection is, not just in breast cancer, but in all cancers. And I thought about my sister, who worried when she didn’t need to and who put off that test because she wanted “one last Christmas.” I thought about all the frightening health problems that can come up. And I thought about how putting off tests and doctor’s visits don’t help at all.

So, this month, I challenge you: whatever it is that you need to do to take care of your body–whether it’s a mammogram or a follow-up-visit or a annual well-woman visit–schedule it today. Today!

For me, it’s my annual eye exam. I’m woefully behind. I’m calling my doctor this morning!

So how about you? What have you been putting off (health-wise)? If you own up to it and pledge to make the appointment today, I’ll send you a free book! So, fess up.


35 thoughts on “Breast Cancer Awareness

  1. Emily–hugs. I’m so glad you mammogram was clean and that your sister is fine now too. I am so sorry about your mother-in-law. I’m pretty healthy and haven’t been for a mammogram yet since I’m not old enough for them to require one for me. In general I don’t go to the doctor unless I feel like I can’t function any more.

    1. EmilyMcKay says:

      Yes, Kathy, on normal health stuff, I tend not to go unless I’m miserable, but I try to stay up on the preventive stuff. I guess because the stuff that the preventive stuff is preventing is so scary. 😀

  2. Laurie G says:

    My M-I-L died at the age of 74. She also had digestive problems which eventually turned out to be liver cancer. She was also very active, exercised, took vitamins etc. My F-I-L has had a heart attack, diabetes high blood pressure and is now 82. You never know!

    I’ve been putting off having a colonoscopy. I’m 58. We switched HI and I just found out that they have a preventive health benefit that covers this procedure. I will call to make an appointment.

    1. EmilyMcKay says:

      Yes, Laurie! My in-laws are exactly the same. My father in law has high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and gout. But he’s chugging along at 82. Four years ago, we were sure we were going to lose him, but he’s still here. I guess it’s just a sign of how horrible cancer is.

  3. I’m the opposite, Emily. My dad died young (hit by a drunk driver), and even though it’s completely illogical, I’m convinced I will, too. I won’t drive over the speed limit, I’m obsessive about safety…I never want my kids to have to learn I didn’t look both ways before crossing the street and was hence hit by a bus. Medically, I have a very slight neurological problem, but despite my doctor actually rolling her eyes when i say this, I’m convinced I have Lou Gehrig’s disease (I’m a Yankees fan, after all). So I go in for an annual check, she listens patiently, does an hour of tests and pats me on the head. But if I turn out to be right, at least I can say I did everything I could. And I’m the luckiest woman on the face of the earth…(and here I go again. Time to watch The Iron Horse…)

    1. EmilyMcKay says:

      Kristan, I can *so* imagine you at your doctor’s office! I’m the same way about some things. I guess we all have those things we’re paranoid about for whatever reason.

  4. Shana Shana says:

    For all the horror stories I heard about mammograms, my first one a couple of years ago wasn’t bad at all. I have another in January or February. Not dreading it at all.

    1. EmilyMcKay says:

      Shana, I didn’t think mine was bad either. I mean, yes, I’m glad I don’t have to do that every Friday night or anything, but it wasn’t bad at all.

  5. RobynDeHart RobynDeHart says:

    I haven’t had to have a mammogram yet (couple more years to go) but I am behind on my well-woman test and well, the dentist too. Sheesh. Clearly I have a lot of calls to make. And I will, as soon as this book is due. Emily, feel free to bug me about those calls on Thursday. 😯

    Great blog!

    1. EmilyMcKay says:

      Yep, Robyn, I’ll remind you!

  6. Robin says:

    I’m actually pretty good about scheduling and keeping these types of appointments. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your take on the whole thing.

    1. EmilyMcKay says:

      Thanks, Robin!
      It’s so important that we take care of ourselves. I’m glad you do!

  7. Sandi in OH says:

    I am having a mammogram on November 1. I don’t mind them even though I have more tissue to be squeeze than many women have. Two of my great aunts had breast cancer so I’m always have the test done annually.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Good for you, Sandi! You Definitely need to stay on top of that!

  8. eap says:

    Believe it on not, I’m up to date on everything. I have dr. appointments all the time (with five specialists plus an internist) and my uncle is my dentist so trust me I’m up to date. I had my flu shot three weeks ago. Also, please schedule a colonscopy if you’re due to have one along with anything else.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Eap, with five specialist and an internist, it sounds like you’d have to stay up to date or fall hopelessly behind!

  9. Emily, thank you for this post. I’m so glad you went in for your mammogram and that it was uneventful. What a relief, huh? I’m glad your sister’s scare turned out to be fine, too. Denial is a funny thing, and I think I understand where your sister’s head might’ve been. My mom died from breast cancer far too young. She battled it for four years. Because of family history, I’ve been having mammograms for the better part of my adult life. So, as I approached the age that mom was when she was diagnosed, I fell into total denial. I didn’t have a mammogram for THREE YEARS. How stupid was that?? As if not going in and avoiding potential bad news would make me perfectly healthy. One day, I “woke up” and asked myself, “What the hell are you doing?” Quit being an idiot! Early detection is the key. So, I dragged myself in and got the tests. We are also a family of lumpy, fibrous boobs. So, not only do I have to get the mammogram, I get an ultrasound and an annual breast MRI. Not fun. I have to psych myself up for it, but I do it. Religiously (now that I’ve pulled my head out of the sand). Each year, when I walk out of there with a clean bill of health, each year that I live another year longer than my mom did feels like a renewed lease on life. By the way, in case your sister doesn’t know about this, there’s a vitamin program for women who are challenged with fibrous breast tissue. Take daily: Vit B complex (100 mg), Vit C (1000 mg), Vit E (400 IU), and Selenium (100 mcg). A breast specialist recommended it to me. Thanks again for this post and for sharing your experience.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Nancy, I’m so sorry about your mother! (I think I knew that, but I wasn’t thinking about it when I wrote the blog.) And, yes, the head in the sand thing is tempting, but good for you for resisting! Early detection is *so* important.

    2. Emily McKay says:

      Also, I will totally tell my sister about the vitamins. Thank you!

  10. CateS says:

    Just for everyone’s information… because I lost a dear friend who earliest symptom was a tummy she couldn’t reduce by ab crunches [wanted to look great for her son’s wedding…]
    Early ovarian cancer may not cause obvious symptoms. But, as the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
    Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs
    A swollen or bloated abdomen
    Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation, or diarrhea
    Feeling very tired all the time

    Less common symptoms include:
    Shortness of breath
    Feeling the need to urinate often
    Unusual vaginal bleeding (heavy periods, or bleeding after menopause)
    Most often these symptoms are not due to cancer, but only a doctor can tell for sure. Any woman with these symptoms should tell her doctor.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Oh, Cate! I’m so sorry about your friend. It’s that kind of story that’s just heart breaking! Thanks for reminding us of the symptoms.

  11. Kirsten says:

    I’m glad to hear you & your sister are ok. I have never had a mammogram, didn’t even think about getting one. I suppose I felt fine and thought I was too young, yet writing this down it sounds immensly silly. 😳
    As age seems to have little to do with it.

    I lost all my grandparents to some cancer form or other, including breast cancer. Your post really made me think. I will definitely bring it up when I see my doctor next. See if I could get things checked out soon, just to be on the safe side.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Yes, Kirsten, get yourself checked! Then you don’t have to think about it again for a while.

  12. bn100 says:

    Put off going to the dentist, but just went last week

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Good for you! I love having clean teeth, so that’s never one I have to force.

  13. Jane says:

    I went to the ear doctor a few weeks ago because I hear he was retiring in November and it turned out one of my ears was infected. I got some drops to clear the infection.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Jane, I’m glad he caught it. This time of year it’s easy to get an infection and not notice it among all the allergy and cold symptoms.

  14. Barbara Elness says:

    I keep up to date on all my check ups, but the one thing I haven’t done yet is a colonoscopy. I’m dreading that one and have put it off, guess I should get it done soon. 😀

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Hmm, Barbara I can’t imagine why you’ve been putting that one off.
      Chuck Lorre (the TV producer) has this hysterical story about how when he was young and poor but he needed a colonoscopy. The only way he could afford to have it was at the medical school in front of a classroom full of students. Which he says was great preparation for his career as a writer. I think about that every time I think about how hard writing is.

  15. Ann s. says:

    I confess that I am 47 and have never had a mammogram. They are free com my insurance and you don’t need an appointment they take walk ins, yes I called. You really made me think I am being ridiculous by putting it off. I am off on Friday and I will be first in line at 6:45 am, they start at 7am. I had a thyroid cancer scare this year, had it removed. Thank God the tumor was benign.
    Thank you for the reminder to take care of ourselves, so we will be here for our families.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Ann, you should totally go! It’s just not that big a deal and it’s over fast. I’d heard a lot about it being painful or uncomfortable, but I didn’t think it was.

  16. Janie McGaugh says:

    Mine is more bad memory than anything else. I need to make an appointment for a mammogram. I have another doctor’s appointment tomorrow that is near where the mammogram’s are done, so I plan to stop by and set up an appointment.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Excellent, Janie! Make sure you do!

  17. Mozette says:

    I don’t need to get the ol’ girls squished like pancakes just yet… yep, I’ve heard it’s not fun. 😯 Even painful for some ladies… and my girls aren’t big, so I’m not looking forward to that time they start doing this procedure.

    What I’ve been putting off is getting my eyes checked. Yep, for somebody who reads a lot – like me – I really should have them checked every year or so, but I don’t. Silly really. But I have a few problems with my eyes; one of them is that I have a scar on my left cornea where I damaged it during a seizure I took some years ago and now the optometrist can’t put that icky yellow dye in my eyes anymore because it gives a false reading. Yay! For me… not so good for him/her.

    Anyway, I really should get some new specs as I’ve noticed I’m holding my books closer to my face than last year. And I’d like some new frames too. 🙂

  18. Emily McKay says:

    Yes, Mozette, go get those eyes checked! I’m pretty good about my eyes. When I was young (like 25), I had a detached retina that they *found* when I went in for an annual exam. I didn’t have any symptoms. I just went in and they were like, “Holy crap! Let’s schedule a surgery for next week! Oh, and don’t life anything heavy or run or anything.”
    So that one I’m usually on top of. But I’m late on it this year. Yikes.

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