Elizabeth Haro has to stand on a stepstool at times to get her job done right. She has to comfort nervous women. She has to care for her patient, for only about twenty minutes a year, for a procedure that she knows can save their life. She has to remain professional when her patients are alarmed because their referring doctor suspects a problem. All that while she’s manipulating a breast that is more compromising than its owner. Elizabeth Haro takes mammograms for a living. So that someone else can continue living.
And how do we reward the Elizabeth’s of our world? We avoid them past the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) recommendation: the first mammogram for the detection of breast cancer should be done at age forty. And, if we happen to have a sister or mother with breast cancer our own doctors are recommending them sooner.
Along with a mammogram you must have a yearly exam by your health care provider and perform self-examination every month. (Elizabeth recommends doing it on the seventh day of your cycle. I say do whatever will help you to remember to do it every month!) My personal doctor will recommend one anytime she detects tenderness at an annual breast exam, regardless of her patient’s age. But, with all of that, my young sister-in-law Diane, the one currently battling breast cancer, says even women with diagnosed tumors found from mammograms still don’t do their required monthly self-exam!
For those of you that are under forty take heed: ACS recommends that women start the monthly self exam at age eighteen and by their health care provider at their yearly pap smear appointment.
My friend Mandy and I make our mammogram appointments around our birthdays every year. My girlfriend at work brings along her girlfriend to their yearly appointments. (She asked for a discount the first time because it was for two appointments at once, the next year she asked for a discount because neither had breast implants and would therefore not require the extra “view”. She never got the discount but is still pleased with the results of healthy screenings so far.) But my new friend Ann, at age 49, still (at press time) hasn’t made her first mammogram appointment!
For those of you interested in what happens at a mammogram the following lines are for you. Others, like my male editor, my husband and all other male sissies feel free to skip over the next few paragraphs and go straight down to the bottom of this column for the statistics. Because the Eve of Destruction is about to take off.
It doesn’t matter whether you are small, medium or large breasted. Because your entire breast, no matter what size, just may very well shoot right through your nipple just to escape the pressure being applied. It’s amazing that the whole damn contraption just doesn’t, like the print ad we’ll never see, remarkably alter the look of your breast forever! I read in an e-mailed joke once that it’s akin to having your husband back up over your chest in a SUV. I don’t have an SUV; bust (I really wrote bust instead of but here!) can still agree the visual effect. But rest at ease ladies, that meager ten pounds or so of pressure is necessary to spread the tissue apart and actually lowers the x-ray dosage. So the x-ray risk is considered negligible.
Yes, the glass plates are cold. The left and right stickers are not comfortable to remove from the nipples afterwards. (In fact I thought of making it Ed’s job to remove but he’d have enjoyed that entirely too much.) And even though it’s somewhat embarrassing to say because it’s a little reverse discrimination, only female technicians like Elizabeth do the manipulation of our sensitive tissue.
Remember how you feel after a particularly grueling workout? You feel good…because you’re done with it. You should try to see your yearly mammogram the same way, as a treat to your continued well being and health.
The radiologist then reviews your films and sends you and your doctor the results in a couple of weeks. It’s important to keep your mammogram records with your radiologist, as he/she will want to compare each year to the next. A mammogram is like a fingerprint and small changes can be detected by reviewing against previous films. If unsure where to obtain a mammogram (I had mine at Henry Mayo’s radiology department, 661-253-8468) you can contact ACS at 1-800-ACS-2345.
In case you don’t know this already: Mammography can detect cancer several years before a woman or her health care provider can feel a lump. Even women of low income have no excuse as low cost and free mammograms can be obtained through local or state health departments. Medicare and Medicaid also cover the procedure.
Here are some numbers for everyone to contemplate: This year 182,800 women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, 40,800 will die. But here are some more friendly numbers for you to handle: the ACS has trained over 31,474 volunteers to contact five friends, family members and/or acquaintances in the “Tell a Friend” program educating women about mammograms. So far they have contacted 154,542 women and generated 24,113 mammograms!
Can I generate one, Ann? Can a single reader generate one more? Can we tell our friends, family and acquaintances to make a difference? Heck yes! Tell a friend, bring a friend, make a friend, and, so, you’ll keep a friend. Please.