Let's do the mammo again
On the Bright Side
October 12, 2019
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which makes this a good time to remind everyone to take care of themselves, especially by getting checked one way or the other.
As a young adult in the late 60s and early 70s, I got checkups regularly, and I learned through the years that cancer takes many different forms and arrives at different times in different people's lives. Still, I've learned that early detection is usually one of the best ways to combat most cancers, and that medicine has indeed advanced in both screening techniques and treatment.
I've also recognized the value of getting regular mammograms as I've gotten older. Because I have a family history of breast cancer, I was advised to get a mammogram annually after my 40th birthday, which I've done, even though there's been a controversy about the value of such tests for over 30 years.
The argument over how often women should get mammograms – and at what age – seems destined to go on and on. There are always articles reporting this new study or that new discovery, and every now and then we even read that someone wonders whether mammograms can be credited in any way with saving lives.
I can't state this strongly enough: I believe that over the years, mammograms have saved the lives of my mother, six dear friends and at least two other acquaintances (others have been saved by physical exams done by a doctor, or a lover, or themselves, all of which are valid). Scientific data, like in some studies, may point the other way toward women who weren't helped by regular mammograms. But sometimes science just can't answer questions or present alternatives as well as common sense, personal experience or faith.
In the cases of my mother and one friend whom I'll call "W," routine mammograms caught the lumps that proved to be cancerous before they could be felt by a physical exam. W was 44 when the mammo set her on a course that saved her life; she is 73 today and going strong. My mother was in a category of older post-menopausal women; she was an 18-year survivor of two breast cancer adventures (and one mastectomy) until pancreatic cancer took her away. No one – and I mean no one – can tell me their lifesaving mammograms were unnecessary or had no value.
I don't know why we must periodically rehash this particular women's health issue but I have my suspicions. I know there are always people – even scientists – who just like the publicity that a controversial conclusion can bring. I also know there are a myriad of other issues at play here, most notably whether or not insurance coverage should include payments for tests that may or may not be determined to be helpful or significant. And let's not forget that some doctors just don't get how women's health issues differ from men's.
And yes, I know that mammograms are not fail proof. Mammos may not detect cancer early if it started somewhere else in the body and mammos are not the only screening tool. But none of those realities are sound reasons to skip the squeeze every now and then.
Bottom line, I don't yet know why, really, decisions about mammograms or any other tests shouldn't be just between a woman and her doctor, as they are the two people on earth who know her body better than anyone else does. (Same goes, by the way, for men and their doctors, for the same reason.)
A mammogram in time might save your life. So why wouldn't you get one as often as you and your doctor determine is best, regardless of studies that seem determined to discourage you from taking advantage of any and all tools available to you in caring for your own health?
Just do it. For all of us women – and anyone who has women in their lives whom they love – a mammogram can still be the best means of finding and fighting breast cancer. Make October the month you get this done.
© Copyright 2019. Mel, local writer/photographer and co-owner of Tehachapi Treasure Trove, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996, and has a mamo scheduled for later this month. She welcomes your comments at [email protected]