Once in a while I would look at the doctor’s order in my desk folder. It was dated a year earlier, and it was for a mammography. That’s for other women, I thought. I didn’t feel anything weird in my breast, and sometimes, at night, I even took the time to actually go through those manipulations my doctor showed me a couple years before. Plus, it seemed like such a boring thing to do. No family history. Clear mammos when I decided to actually get one. Everything was fine. Just fine.
Then I went for my annual physical and was handed a similar piece of paper by my doctor. Mammography. Again. This time, for whatever reason, I thought it might not be so tedious to at least go to the radiologist. I hadn’t been for a few years, and I wanted to see if the magazines had changed. Besides, Bethesda wasn’t that far from Silver Spring. My daughter was at school. I didn’t have any clients that day. Yeah, why not.
Mammograms are weird, no doubt about it. They don’t hurt, but the whole set-up looks bizarre and feels strange. I decided to sing old Bette Midler songs to myself during the procedure, probably inspired by the remake of “Beaches” that was rumored to be in production. I barely got through “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and the test was over.
The technician asked me to have a seat in a grim little room off to the side, not unlike the indoor shed my parents had in the basement of their old house where they kept the Passover dishes. Small, one cramped place to sit, a curtain on the door. I looked around for something to read and could only find a trash can with wrapping inside from someone’s paper examination gown. I decided to memorize the directions—tie in front, dispose after wearing.
I was brought back to the mammography room and asked once again to sandwich my right breast into the machine. Nervous as hell, this time I sang “The Rose.”
The radiologist met with me shortly afterwards. There were microcalcifications inside the breast, I was told. I needed to have a biopsy, and not just any biopsy—something called a stereotactic biopsy. Let me describe this process in language I can’t even understand: stomach down on a table, breast hanging through, technicians underneath the table doing their thing to extract the cells from the offender. I thought about milkmaids. I thought about Jiffy Lube. I thought about birthday streamers hanging up way too long. I sang “From A Distance.” And then it was over.
This was a Thursday. It could take up to five business days to find out the verdict. It might be Monday before I heard anything. I drove my daughters crazy. I drove my husband crazier. I called my sister and best friends over and over. Against all my better judgment I started to Google the minute I arrived home. I Googled breast cancer. I Googled biopsy. I Googled microcalcification. And then I started in on side effects, support groups, t-shirts in pink that read “Save the Ta-Ta’s,” and personal stories from around the world. I was relentless.
In the middle of this my husband’s favorite aunt died in Massachusetts. The funeral was Sunday. He drove straight through from Silver Spring to Framingham so he could be back in time if the call came in on Monday morning. I went to yoga the entire weekend and learned the words to “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I watched the original “Beaches.”
Early Monday morning the call came. My husband held my hand. I had something called Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). It is the presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast. DCIS is considered the earliest form of breast cancer. It is non-invasive, meaning it hasn’t spread out of the milk duct to invade other parts of the breast. At first I was offended. I was at Stage O. Really? Come on, I live in DC. And then I realized that was a good thing. A REALLY good thing
So here we are today. I had a lumpectomy, decided against radiation based on tons of research, and all is right with the world.
Because all around us there are women just like me who are letting that little slip of paper sit on a desk, or in a folder, or it has made its way to some landfill someplace. And these women are not going in for a mammogram.
It seems trite to say it could save your life, although, of course, it could. So here I am. Asking you, no, begging you, to go in for a mammogram if you haven’t. And tell everyone you know to do it, too. Because, naturally, “you’ve got to have friends.”