Updated: Oct 2
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It serves as a reminder that taking care of your breast health is a serious matter to pay attention to.
Mammography Saves Lives
If you have a mother, sister, aunt or another close relative who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you should definitely get tested. Breast health is an important matter to pay attention to.
My mother, who is a 20+ year breast cancer survivor, is the closest person to me to experience this awful disease. Then there was my aunt, who was like my other mother most of my life. She also had breast cancer and sadly passed away with complications in her senior years.
Aside from my mom and aunt, some of my closest friends are survivors and others I have know are now in Heaven who experienced breast cancer.
What I saw in all of these women was strength and courage to fight for and to live their best life while encouraging others to do the same. I love(d) these "S"heros. They encouraged me to learn to be my own hero.
Looking out for my own health rather than waiting for my doctor to tell me things I should already be paying attention to, was a lesson I learned in a shocking way.
One year while going in for my annual breast exam, the doctor found a small lump in my left breast. It was totally unnoticeable by my own self-examinations.
Considering my family history with breast cancer, tests were immediately scheduled. I would have biopsy that - praise GOD - was a benign. It was a wake up call. Suddenly I wanted to lose weight, eat healthier, exercise more, and embrace life more.
Having lost my late husband and oldest son to different forms of cancer, I have seen more than my share of the effects of the disease. So, upon learning that I had a lump of tissue that could send me down a similar road, was terrifying. I was intent on keeping a good attitude and trusting God. This is why I participate in awareness each year - I want women to take care of themselves, mind, body, and soul.
For the past five years or so, I had to have special visits in addition to my annual breast examinations, with my doctor watching closely for any changes. Thankfully, there have not been any new changes or issues, but having experienced the small scare forever changed my perspective on self-care.
What is a mammogram?
In the simplest terms, a mammogram is an x-ray image of the breast.
According to Radiology Affiliates of Central NJ, “Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States, and about one in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In 2015, an estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women, along with 60,290 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.”
Annual mammograms can detect cancer early - when it is most treatable. Mammographysaveslives.org, says that "mammograms show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them. Mammograms can also prevent the need for extensive treatment for advanced cancers and improve changes of breast conservation."
Source: Radiology Affiliates of Central NJ
As a woman of faith and perseverance, I am drawn towards inspiration for daily living. I soak of positivity and massage it into my life, so I can use it to better myself and then I squeeze out what I learn to share it with others.
When I went in to see my doctor for my routine Mammogram. I was not at all concerned about the test because it has been like anything else I do on a regular basis. I go and get it done and think nothing else of it. With a mother and an aunt having dealt with this illness, I take it seriously, but I don’t allow myself to worry or be consumed by any fear associated with it because I know that your mindset can truly steer the direction of your life. This is not to say that people who have had any form of illness were not positive thinkers. My mother is one of the most positive people I’ve know and yet she had this cross to bear.
Thinking positively has carried me through so much in my life, its just a natural response to my daily living. On this visit for my annual breast wellness check I did the test and went on about my day. A few days later, I got a phone call from the radiologist. They found something, “inconclusive” and I needed to come back for more testing.
About a week later I opened a letter to corroborate the phone call. My eyes immediately zeroed in on the word “inconclusive.” I don’t even remember anything else that was in that piece of paper.
Naturally, my mind tried to wander in all sorts of directions. I became somber and saddened, not so much because of the “inconclusive diagnosis” of sorts, but because for the first time since my late husband had passed, I felt truly alone.
I had no one, no significant other to even hold my hand and say, ‘it’s going to be alright.’ I did not tell my mother because I didn’t want to worry her. I certainly couldn’t tell my son, he would surely be concerned. I immediately went further down my list of possibilities and found excuses not to tell this person or that one – putting their feelings before my own.
Isn’t that what we do, put others first instead of being honest and allowing them be there for us? I didn’t want to go through whatever was on the other side of that letter alone, but I felt I had no other choice.
What is are the types of mammogram?
There are two types of mammograms: screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms.
Screening mammogram: This is used to check for breast cancer in a patient who shows no signs or symptoms of the illness. This type of test involves taking two x-ray pictures of each breast in order to detect hidden tumors or micro-calcifications that cannot be felt by a typical breast exam.
Diagnostic mammogram: This type of mammogram is used to check for breast cancer in a patient who does have a lump or other sign of the illness. Other signs include pain, thickening of breast skin, nipple discharge, or sudden change in breast shape or size.
On the day of the follow-up visit to the radiologist, they had scheduled a diagnostic mammogram and needle biopsy. Honestly it scared the crap of out me to think I was about to do something so invasive, all by myself. Yet I held onto self pity and pride, putting on my big girl panties, I did what I had to do, talking with God the whole time.
I think my mind must have gone numb at some point. I hardly felt the prick of the small needed entering into the soft tissue of my left breast. I just lay there with my eyes closed, focusing on my life and searching for a renewed sense of purpose telling myself that I would not take another second of my life for granted.
By His grace, a few days later, I learned that the procedure which had been described as a breast cyst aspiration, was “conclusively” benign. Heavy sighs and hot steamy tears welled in the corners of my eyes as I learned it was mere a clump of tissue mimicking something that could have been far more serious. I was overjoyed!
Truthfully, the procedure was simple and fast. I appreciate the care and attention I received from the doctors and nurses who were there with me. They were very kind and caring. They were thorough in explaining the process to me and guiding me as to what to expect from start to finish.
Looking back at is all now, I know that allowed my mind to make the whole process seem way more monumental than it actually was. The thought of being all alone and doing this thing called life on my own, that it what really bothered me.
What is a breast cyst? A breast cyst is a fluid-filled sac (like a tiny balloon) inside the breast. Breast cysts are common in women. They might cause a little pain, but they are usually benign (not cancerous).
What is breast cyst aspiration? In breast cyst aspiration, your doctor uses a small needle to withdraw (aspirate) fluid from a cyst. Source: familydoctor.org
Because of this growth, I would have to do routine screening mammograms in addition to diagnostic mammograms every 2 years.
“Don’t waste your pain. If you hide it and hold it back, it doesn’t do any good. But if you’re honest with God and yourself and with other people, God can use the thing you hate the most in your life, that you’re most disappointed by, and that you wish had never happened. God says, you can’t change what happened to you. But I can use it for your benefit and for My purposes. When you’re willing to share your brokenness, I can use it to help other people.” - Pastor Rick Warren
Each year, in October, women across the world swim together in a sea of pinkness marching, walking, talking, and sharing the journey to wellness and finding a cure for breast cancer. It has been my pleasure to celebrate life alongside them by doing what I can to continue to raise awareness. I encourage every woman I know to take their health seriously, get your annual physical, mammogram, and other wellness checks.
Set reminders by your birthday to keep on track with annual appointments. You can also greatly enhance your health simply by eating well, resting, exercising and taking time to enjoy everyday life.
Purpose Note: Reader, Supporter, Friend, I pledge to be honest with you about my life. I will share the good, the bad, the not so good, etc. There would be no value to you or me in sharing a lot of pretentious text. My life hasn’t been the worst, I have been quite blessed. Yet, I am cognizant of the fact that my blessings, rest on the broken wings of pain and heartache I have experienced in my life.
From growing up without a sense of belonging that caused me to question myself and choose fantasy over reality, to ultimately marrying someone who I thought was my soulmate in a desperate attempt to escape that pain. When I later lost my oldest son Christopher then six-months later, his dad, my late husband to other forms of cancer, I went into an even deeper level of unconsciousness that could have served to be my detriment until I was awakened to the real, true life that God had planned for me.
Living life in the various spaces in time that I have, has forced me to believe in myself, to allow the real me to be what people see. Being real makes you believable. It is what people need to see in order to know their own desires can be fulfilled. For now, I am taking time to pray, relax, dream and be hopeful about the future. Each day begins and ends with a warm embrace to love the one that I was created to be.
So, here we are. I was blessed to begin again. I am now living my best life! If I can do it, so can you! The journey continues…
Valerie Winrow is an author and a women’s lifestyle writer/blogger highlighting women's health, wellness, and finance.
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