I'm a pretty healthy person. I believe in preventative care, and I have a physical and full blood work done every year. So far I haven't had any serious illnesses, or had any other concerns, so I kinda take my excellent health for granted.
Over the summer, about a month before my birthday, I went in for my well woman exam. My doctor recommended that I get a mammogram. "But I'm not 40!" I screamed. She laughed and explained that she'd like to get a baseline test well before I turned 40, so that any changes in my breasts could be immediately identified when I do start getting regular mammograms *cough* in four years.
About a week later, I got a letter in the mail from the imaging center. My first thought was to toss the envelope without even opening it. I'm healthy, I have no family history of breast cancer, and I'm still young. I opened the letter just to be sure, and sat there stunned when I read that there was an unidentified mass in my right breast. I needed to have another mammogram and an ultrasound done in order to determine what the mass was.
I figured it was probably nothing, but a little fear did start to creep up. Thirty minutes later the imaging center called to schedule my appointment. They explained that they needed to use a more powerful mammogram machine, and they reassured me that it was more than likely dense tissue and not a tumor. Despite their reassurances, I started to get scared. I'm a plan for the worst, pray for the best kind of girl, but in this case the worst was unimaginable.
I considered all of the ways this could play out, but the one thing I kept thinking about was the fact that this mammogram was 4 years ahead of schedule. No matter what the test results were, I knew I still had a fighting chance. I thought about the women who don't get an early baseline test, or put off their regular mammogram, or even worse, don't have access to quality health care. I shuddered.
With a little trepidation, I went in for the second mammogram. It was on a much bigger and complex looking machine. The technician explained that this particular machine could get better, more precise pictures of the dense tissue areas. After taking pictures of smaller areas of breast tissue, I was told onsite that I did not have any visible signs of cancer. However, I did still have an area of dense tissue that will need to be monitored. I learned that women with dense breast tissue have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Still, I was relieved.
If you are seeking free or low cost mammograms check with the Susan G. Komen Foundation or the CDC. Most health insurance and Medicare cover mammograms (thanks to the ACA). Click this link to get more information on mammography and other early detection methods. And always, always, talk to your medical provider about any changes or discomfort you feel in your breasts. I was lucky this go 'round, but many other women were not.
Side note: I noticed a few days ago on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that there was a "go bra-less for breast cancer awareness" campaign. If you are down for the cause, any cause, and truly want to spread awareness, share resources and solutions, not thirst traps and exploitation. Just my $0.02.