A young woman who will remain unnamed recently shared with me her feelings about mammograms. As a Previvor, someone who surrendered her real breasts to avoid a breast cancer diagnosis, I do not have mammograms. I have sisters who have had breast cancers that were not found by mammograms, but only after mastectomies. I do share some of this woman's concerns when it comes to radiation exposure, especially for those of us with BRCA mutations, to the point I refuse to have dental x-rays, so I asked her to write a guest blog for me, sharing her perspective, one voice. Here it is:
Wait, before your shpeel. I know that 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. I know that avoiding cancer in a time and place in history when and where the air, water, soil, food, walls, pillows, sofas, bed mattresses, lunchboxes, water bottles, infant pajamas, breast milk, umbilical cord blood and WE are full of poisons seems nothing short of miracle. I know that just because there is no history of cancer in my family does not mean that I do not have cancer right now or that I will not develop it at some point in my life. I know that diagnosing breast cancer “early” (once it’s been in my body for years and has grown to the point of being visible on radiation scans) can make all the difference between surviving and not surviving. I know. I know. I know. And yet, I am not convinced that annual doses of radiation to my breasts is going to help me more than it hurts me.
I’m 40 years old and regardless of what the US Preventative Services Task Force says about the lack of demonstrated benefits of annual mammograms starting at age 40 over biannual mammograms starting at age 50, my new doctor had quite the “shpeel” (her words) for me. I was seeing her for no reason other than establishing myself as her patient, and I assure you, I like her very much. More than anything else, the mammogram lecture she gave me showed me just how much she cares about her patients. I told her I was not having my first mammogram this year and do not know if or when I will be having my first mammogram. She started her shpeel by getting straight to the point, telling me that if I get breast cancer when I’m 80, my son (now age 6) will be fine, but if I get breast cancer now, and do not catch it, he could lose me when he needs me most. Yep, she’s banking on fear being an important motivator for me, and she’s right. My choices related to breast screening are a direct result of my fears. I appreciate her intentions, but I am not getting a mammogram this year. Maybe not next year or the next either.
Warning - every time you tell me that a mammogram delivers such an insignificant amount of radiation, I am going to remind you that radiation is cumulative. You are not going to gloss that fact over with me, so don’t bother trying.
I wish that just a fraction of the money and attention given to mammogram technology, promotion and worship would instead go towards cleaning up our human act so that the next generation and the next don’t have to live life sandwiched between what might be a statistic such as 1 in 7,6,5,4… women getting breast cancer in their lives and desperate reliance on annual doses of cancer-causing radiation to the breasts in an effort NOT to beat those odds, but to survive despite being the 1.
Anonymous Guest Blogger, 4Women.com
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