Saturday, September 20, 2014

Thanks Or No Thanks To Tess McLeod, I Got a Mammogram

A few weeks ago, I watched Tess McLeod have a breast cancer scare on McLeod's Daughters. She felt a lump while taking a shower and completely freaked out because her mother died from breast cancer. She got pretty depressed and anxious about the whole thing, but fortunately received decent support from her Drover's Run family.

I think the show did a great job of showing the anxiety of medical testing, and it was realistic in showing that the process can be long and difficult. There's a lot of waiting.  And there has been a study that shows waiting for a diagnosis is equally stressful to actually getting a cancer diagnosis.

Tess ends up being lucky...for a day or two. She gets the cancer-free statement from the doctor. She's super happy. Her Drover's Run family is super happy. They decide to have a party to celebrate. On the way back from going into town to buy supplies, Tess and her sister Claire have a car issue that leads them dangling over a cliff. Tess got passed over by the breast cancer demon, and got a much worse one instead. She survives, but her sister does not.

 It was all a bit over the top (though real life is too sometimes).  I think, though, that the show did a good job reminding us that yes, you can and should be happy about a negative test result.  But it's not a message saying you're free for life. You may be free from disaster for now. But who knows how long this particular now will last.

So after watching those episodes, I decided maybe I'd stop procrastinating about my own mammogram. According to the American Cancer Society, you're supposed to start get mammograms when you're 40.  I'm almost 42. But I have a very good excuse for my procrastination. Based on some impressive scientific research, the Government Task Force says it's not beneficial for women to get mammograms until they're 50. It doesn't save many lives. That's one thing. And also, many women get false positives which leads to the anxiety I mentioned above.

But when I went to the doctor in May, she gave me a stern look about not having a mammogram yet, and she gave me a Mammogram order form.  I stuck it in my drawer, figuring maybe I'll do it someday. Actually, that's not true. I'm embarrassed to admit it. I want to be the person who stands up to doctors and says No. I won't do it. And at times I HAVE been that person. But with this, I felt intimidated...despite the research.

Also, because I am an Ashkenazi Jew and my grandfather had breast cancer; I might be in the high risk category.  Though it's probably a waste of time for 40-49 year old women of the general population to get mammograms, the story might be different for people like me.

So I did plan to get the mammogram sometime before my next meeting with this doctor. I didn't want to do it during the summer. I promised the anti-procrastination gods that I'd do it in September. When September came along, I started thinking, Well...maybe October might be better? Or November, perhaps?

But then I saw the breast adventures of Tess McLeod. That, plus some other real life cancer news, made me decide. I'll just get this over with.

The center I went to is really nice, and they work really hard to reduce anxiety. They told me it's fairly likely I'll get a call-back and I shouldn't freak out. It happens to a lot of women.

At this point, I wasn't worried about cancer. I was worried about the bills. The first mammogram is free, but what about the second? And what if you need a biopsy?  A false positive not only causes anxiety (before you get to feel all relieved) but I was figuring it also probably costs a lot.  Tim and I were talking about it, and he compared it to those apps that are free. They get you hooked. But to really enjoy it, you have to start putting money into the game.

Anyway, sure enough....I get the phone call the next morning. Please come back. We need to retest your left breast. I was a tiny bit unnerved, just because earlier I had started hypochondriacing a bit about that particular breast. I had noticed some very mild blemishes on it a few days before and it's larger than the right.  I thought those things were normal, but did some post screening-mammogram reading, and learned there are other breast signs to look out for besides lumps. signs were extremely minor; nothing compared to the horrific photos I saw on Google Images. But still.

I went in for a second mammogram. I was still more worried about the cost than actually having cancer.

Next thing I knew I was in the ultrasound room.  I felt pregnant and made a joke about that. I tried not to worry about the bill we might soon receive. Or cancer.

The ultrasound felt like it took forever.  Then the doctor came in. He looked at the insides of my breast and gave me the you-can-be-relieved now news. It's just a cyst. He told me to come back next year for my yearly Mammogram. I was thinking, no way. First of all, our insurance only pays for mammograms every two years.  Second, I was agreeing more and more with the US task force. Why put me through all this?  I left thinking maybe in two years...and I might just wait until I'm 50.

I texted Tim with the good news, and he and Jack come to pick me up. We went to the grocery store. About five minutes into that adventure, I heard a Kookaburra.  My phone. Someone was calling. No one ever calls me.  It was the doctor's office.

I answered To my surprise, it was the doctor himself.

He changed his mind. He wants to do a biopsy. I'm scheduled for this Tuesday.

My reaction to it was strange. I wasn't scared at all.  More bemused by whole thing.

And to be honest, breast cancer doesn't terrify me. I understand it can be dangerous, but I know (and know of) a fair amount of women who dealt with breast cancer and seem to be doing quite well today.

The other thing is, last year I had a medical I think I've become numb to it all.

That being said...the biopsy call was Wednesday. By Friday I was feeling worse. I'm not sure if I'm scared, though, or if all this is bringing back bad memories from last summer.

With what happened last summer (and the fall), I feel I was talked into expensive unnecessary stressful testing. And I worry that history is repeating itself.  But then it's really hard to say no to these things, because what if there really is something wrong?

I don't know.

I wonder how I will feel about mammograms after I get the biopsy results. If It's negative, I imagine I'll be even more on board with the US government task force. You made me go through all this for some cysts I would have never even known about if I stayed home. If it's positive....will I change my tune completely? Will be I be shouting out to women on Twitter. Go get your mammogram! Go get your mammogram! Don't wait!!!  Or will I refuse to let my anecdotal evidence trump the scientific evidence?

What I do know is, that no matter what happens and no matter how long it takes me to get good news; I will not be driving with my sisters to the store to pick up supplies for an I'm-cancer-free celebration.  Australian television is quite good at making me paranoid and superstitious.