We’ve all been taught that if you see something, say something. But what if you feel something? Do you say something or do you remain silent?
I was 31 years old when I had my first mammogram. I remember describing what I felt as a heaviness in my breast. I wasn’t sure if that translated well to my Gynecologist, so her examination was critical to ensuring that we were on the same page. She didn’t feel that there was any real cause for concern, but sensing my anxiety [and having a paternal great grandmother with breast cancer] she thought it would be a good idea to get screened.
Being Type A, I immediately called the Radiology Center to schedule an appointment for a mammogram. My conversation with the receptionist was pretty standard. It included all of the typical questions one would expect to answer such as name, chief complaint, etc. Things changed when she asked for my date of birth. This was my first time going through this process, so I had no idea that being under 40 was such a big deal. I was on hold for 10 minutes while she discussed my case with the Radiologist and it was finally determined that they would agree to perform the screening. Their main concern was radiation exposure, and mine was determining the state of my breast health.
I’m so grateful that I was able to talk to a few of my mammogram-eligible folks (my female friends over 40) so I knew what to expect. I wasn’t worried about the test itself, I was worried about what the results might show. I walked into the imaging room, and over the next 20-30 minutes, they proceeded to do an entire photo shoot of my right breast. I had no idea what they were looking for, but the way they manipulated my breast, I was sure they would find it. I went to the waiting area and was called back in for additional images. While I knew that might happen, it sent my anxiety through the roof. I kept wondering why they wouldn’t say something if they saw something; but I knew that wasn’t how things worked. Next, I was taken to the ultrasound room for a closer examination of the breast tissue. After almost 2 hours of being screened, I was convinced that something was wrong. The Radiologist came into the room and asked me to locate the area of concern, and sensing my fear, she touched my hand and said “you’re absolutely fine, I just wanted to feel what you felt”. I was so relieved I almost cried. She explained that I have dense breast tissue which is very common. She encouraged me to continue with self-breast examinations, because this type of tissue can make it difficult to feel for any irregularities. She ended our conversation by saying that I was cleared until age 40, unless I noticed any changes.
I’m grateful that everything turned out okay, but I know that isn’t always the case. If you are under 40 and you feel something, say something. If you had a 3D mammogram and the results show no evidence of cancer but you feel that an MRI is warranted, say something. If you have a family history of breast cancer and feel that you want to be aggressive with screening, say something. If you have not had genetic testing and feel that you should, say something. If you are performing a self breast exam and don’t know what to look for, say something. If you notice changes in your breast and feel like something is wrong, say something. It’s not easy advocating for yourself, but it’s absolutely necessary. And there’s no better person to speak on your behalf than you.
Here’s your call to action: pick one day this month to schedule an appointment with your Gynecologist. Get your baseline information, identify your risk factors, and talk about what you can do to promote breast health. If you are a health care provider looking for opportunities to educate black women on breast health and cancer prevention, consider becoming a BGH partner: https://membership.blackgirlhealth.com/