It has been seven years and I still remember the coldness in her voice. The words were spoken as if I had woken up that morning and thought to myself, well, today seems like a great day to find out what a mammogram feels like. I think I’ll just call up a clinic and see if they can fit me in. Of course, that wasn’t the case. I had discussed the exam with my OB/GYN who had agreed that it was the right time. She had written me a script which led to me making this phone call.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34. She lost her battle at the age of 36. As with anything in the medical field, when it comes to mammograms, there are different schools of thought when it comes to screening age when you have a family history. After having a conversation with my doctor, we decided to go with the method of subtracting ten years from the age of my mother’s diagnosis for me to start having the exam. I also have a personal history of thyroid cancer, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have such a simple test done to start a baseline.
I had no idea it would be such an emotional process to schedule my first mammogram. At the time I was a student in a Radiology program, so I had spent a lot of time in hospital settings and learned a lot about patient care. I’m not sure if my education heightened my awareness of how tactless the receptionist was, but I feel as though anyone else would have felt the same way.
When I called to schedule an appointment, the woman took my name and then asked for my date of birth. There was a pause. A pause that took just long enough for her to do the math. When the words “we don’t do mammograms on 24-year-olds,” spilled out of the phone, I think dumbfounded, astonished, or overwhelmed could have accurately described my reaction. This was not some hole in the wall clinic. This was a leading treatment and research institute. Certainly they had treated patients who were “too young” for a cancer diagnosis.
After an uncomfortable hesitation to gather my thoughts, I had to explain my maternal family history. I was then put on hold, transferred to another person, and then had to go through the entire conversation again. The entire time I just kept thinking, I have a script from my doctor, why is this so difficult? My appointment was finally made. When I showed up for my first mammogram, as expected, I was decades younger than anyone else in the waiting room. Both the receptionist and the mammography tech made comments about my age.
I know my sister and I are not the only women who lost their mother to breast cancer at such a young age. I have also read articles about women in their early twenties who felt something that ended up being cancer. As much as we all wish it wasn’t a reality, it definitely is, and as we all know, early detection is key. I am 31 now and recently had my third mammogram. In my opinion, it isn’t nearly as bad as it’s made out to be. However, I realize I may feel that way because of my history.
With it being the month of October, I know sometimes the pink ribbons and sometimes crude slogans can be a little overwhelming. There are a number of organizations you can donate money to in the name of breast cancer awareness. By all means, do so if you feel obliged. My hope, however, is that you will encourage all the women in your life, who are either old enough or have a strong family history, to get their annual mammogram. If they try to get out of it, offer to make a day out of it. If you need one yourself, make your appointments together, and then reward yourselves with lunch and a massage afterward! If you don’t need one, you can just wait for her in the waiting room. I promise it doesn’t take long at all.