Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Tomorrow I am getting a mammogram and it always makes me feel vulnerable and a little bit scared because of my immediate family's history with having breast cancer. I never knew my maternal grandmother because she died when my mother was very young. It's a dark shadow that hangs over women in our family when we have mammograms or when we find a lump like the doctor once did many years ago. This happened while I was trying to wean my eldest daughter. I couldn't explain to her because she was a young child and it was confusing for mommy to go to the hospital and not be able to nurse. 

Fortunately, the lump was benign. Fear, and I was afraid as well as guilty about weaning my daughter with these circumstances, can be a paralyzing emotion that prevents us from knowing even if the knowledge is painful. It is, however, better to know a painful truth and be able to act on the hard knowing than to be ignorant and at the whim of an indecisive fate. So, in the words of the late Molly Ivins, "Go. Get. The. Damn. Mammogram. Done." 

UPDATE/ October 29, 2014 After two rounds of mammograms and an ultrasound, I had a Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNAB). Essentially, with the FNAB, the doctor first looks on the ultrasound to see where the cyst is situated, then marks that area of the breast  with a pen that will not fade when she washes the area with an antiseptic. She puts draping around the breast to keep it sterile after the antiseptic, numbs the breast with a local anesthesia, and gels again so she can use the ultrasound wand that is in a sterile plastic bag. The nurse maneuvers the ultrasound wand and the doctor uses a hollow needle connected to a syringe hooked up to tubing and sticks the needle into the breast near the mark. The doctor guides the needle with the ultrasound and withdraws fluid from the cyst, collecting it through the syringe's suction. The cyst usually collapses because it is basically a fluid-filled membrane. Then the cyst fluid is sent off to a pathologist to see if the cyst was benign or cancerous.

My FNAB was this simple process, it did not hurt, and I was able to resume my normal activities immediately. It was fascinating to watch the needle inside of me, to see the cyst as it collapsed, and to feel a pop inside my breast as the needle poked the cyst. However, the most important thing was getting the call from the breast care center. The cells came back normal. I don't have cancer. I have, instead, an appointment to follow up on my treatment in six months. Don't be afraid of the procedures you may have to save your life. "Go. Get. The. Damn. Mammogram. Done." 

Picture Credit: T.W. Rolleston. The Tale of Lohengrin. New York : T. Y. Crowell, 1910
Cornell University Library, The Fantastic in Art and Fiction