Does that title sound overly dramatic? Perhaps to some it is. To me, it’s 100% truth. The very first mammogram I ever had detected something suspicious and I quickly learned how valuable early screenings are for women.
Several months ago, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Services or USPSTF (say that after a glass of wine!) changed the recommendation of when to start mammogram screenings. Despite the expertise of many medical practitioners as well as studies that have shown breast cancer mortality rates decrease with earlier detection, their committee of experts moved the suggested age to begin screenings from 40 to 50. Say what? Apparently the increase in false positives and over diagnosis were more harmful than beneficial in their eyes.
You want to get a survivor fired up? You just tell her something like this: “Oh, there are too many false positives and it’s really stressful for the person who has to go through that scare.” Or watch how she cringes when you say something like “Early mammograms really don’t detect the ‘harmful’ cancers.”
I had no lumps or reason to suspect that something was growing within my breast. In fact, I went as a walk-in for a mammogram at the prodding of my OB/Gyn because I had just turned 40. Their offices were next to each other so I literally left one appointment and walked one doorway over for the mammogram because it was convenient. I was moving from Iowa to Ohio the next week so I needed to knock out as many medical appointments as I could before the move.
When I received the follow up call to come back a few days later, I wasn’t terribly concerned. After all, the mammographer had assured me that many women get called back after their first mammogram because there’s no baseline for comparison’s sake. She also mentioned that many young women have dense breast tissue (thus making mammograms harder to read). I shuttled my kids (then 8 and 4 years old) off to the neighbor’s house and said “I’ll only be an hour.”
Three hours later, after the follow up mammogram and an ultrasound, I found myself face down getting a biopsy. They whisked me into the room and expedited services due to my upcoming move. My appointment was on a Friday and movers were packing up my house on Monday so there was no time to waste.
After the biopsy, I sat bruised and uncertain. I would have to wait a very long weekend to know the results. Still, I was young and in good shape. Certainly I was too healthy to get cancer. I was confident the results would come back negative. I didn’t know anyone my age with cancer. I was a mom. Moms don’t get cancer.
I’ve blogged about this before and I’ll say it again. Nothing prepares you for bad news. My mind could not comprehend the words I was hearing. The man on the other end of the receiver was telling me he was sorry. He had to share bad news. I took the phone call as I sat in my packed up office, fumbling to find something to write with as the doctor rattled off my diagnosis. As I was taking in this news, the men from the moving company were whizzing all around the house from room to room. There was no private place to curl up and hide. Instead, I scribbled down words that made no sense. After I hung up, I tried to make heads or tails of what he told me. What did he mean by “an area of micro invasion”? That can’t be good. What’s grade 1 mean? Is that a stage? It was as if someone had slipped me a math equation that I hadn’t studied before but I was being tested right there on the spot.
I won’t bore you with all the details. Certainly, I’ve written enough on this topic already (because, you know, it’s therapeutic!). What I do want to make abundantly clear is the significance of that first mammogram. I ended up with stage 1 ductal carcinoma. I had an area of micro invasion that had penetrated the duct –rather than in situ (considered noninvasive and where the cancer has not yet penetrated the lining of the duct). So mine was not a simple case. Luckily, after a lumpectomy and the removal of three lymph nodes, pathology showed the cancer had not spread.
Sometimes I can’t believe that this is my story. It could have turned out so differently. What if I hadn’t turned 40 and not been prompted to get a mammogram? With these new guidelines, I would still have another 8 years before a mammogram (I’m such a young 42 right now). Are you doing the math with me? That’s ten years for cancerous cells to travel from my breast tissue to other tissue, bones, or organs in my body. I shudder to think of the consequences in my life had I not had that early detection. I’m grateful that I sit here sharing my story with you rather than someone else sharing this with my sons after I’m gone.
Today, I will be getting my two year follow up mammogram post surgery (they start the 2 year monitoring clock following the first mammogram 6 months AFTER surgery). I get mammograms every six months so my “girls” are closely monitored now. I also get yearly MRIs. Time passes but it never gets easier. I will likely get sweaty palms and a case of scanxiety as I sit in the waiting room in a flimsy gown, waiting for my radiologist to read my scans/images. This is life after cancer. I’m ok with it. I go because I know that knowing SOMETHING is better than the surprise alternative.
Women, chicas, sisters, lady friends–do not put off your mammograms. Yes, I know they are mighty uncomfortable and getting your ta tas smooshed like a pancake is unpleasant, but do not delay. I strongly urge you to start screenings at age 40. I didn’t think it could happen to me. After all, the risk of breast cancer for women aged 40 is only 1.45% (you can read more statistics at breastcancer.org). Get the mammograms yearly and talk with your doctor if you are younger but have a family history of breast cancer.
I will remain a loud advocate for earlier screenings and cannot/will not squander this opportunity to use my voice. I don’t mind serving as a poster child for this issue and I will continue to share my story because a mammogram saved my life.
Last night, I came unraveled. I learned of another friend facing a battle with cancer. No matter how much time passes, news like this always brings me to my knees. It’s like opening an old wound that you’ve done your best not to pick at despite its itchy presence. I’m immediately taken back to a place filled with uncertainty, fear and all too familiar dread.
Yet, it also reminds me of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown. It reminds me of hope and faith and the importance of showing up. So many people showed up whenever I felt darkness creeping in. Long time friends, new friends, neighbors, cousins, family members, and even complete strangers stood firm and spoke encouragement back into my soul. They reminded me to be brave. There was no one magical thing that made it all perfect. Instead, it was a tapestry of human love, affirmation, and kindness that wove its way into my heart and provided me a support net.
So here I sit, wondering what purpose God could have in my life to position me right here, right now, as a survivor trying to figure out how best to support a friend. Before my diagnosis, I never knew what to say and was always afraid I’d say the wrong thing. However, here’s what I have learned about the trials of life: You do not have to be perfect or do/say the perfect thing. You just need to follow the nudge you feel in your heart. You only need to remember that doing something is better than doing nothing.
It doesn’t take much to give much. Maybe you are in a position to offer financial assistance but maybe you’re not. You do not have to make BIG contributions to help. I learned there are so many little ways you can make an impact:
- you can give of your time–sitting with a friend during their appointments, chemo, or just on the couch. Facing medical appointments alone can be overwhelming so having a buddy is very helpful.
- you can send cards, texts and notes just so the person struggling knows they are never alone. Uplifting words can be the enriching balm at exactly the right moment. A simple “I’m thinking of you. You are strong.” message can go a long way in building reassurance.
- organize a group of friends to bring meals. Oh, how I love a community that rallies around a friend.
- if they have kids, offer to help watch them. This was a BIG help to me when I had to fit my radiation appointments into a busy “mom” day.
Whatever the struggle–cancer, addiction, depression, illness, loss, or divorce, we all just want to know we are not alone. So often we are afraid to ask how things are going for fear we’ll upset our friend in need. I can tell you unequivocally that I appreciated knowing others were concerned about me. The moments of avoiding the elephant in the room were far more hurtful to my spirit. Walking with someone through a difficult time can make such a huge difference on how he or she deal with their challenges. Trust that your presence is enough. So just be there and listen. You do not even have to say the right thing. Just be still and say “I’m here.” Just show up.
Most importantly, keep showing up. Sometimes, we need to know we have an army with us for the long haul. Call, text, send cards, and pray. Be a blessing and spread light like a beacon in the storm. We can do so much to brighten the world. Us. You and me–everyday, normal people. We can do amazing things.
Just show up.
Fitting in has always baffled me.
From the time I was little, I always felt pressure to blend. Whether it was begging my mom to dye my blonde locks brown so I could look like my friends or buying my clothes at the “right” store, I was always searching for acceptance. Some times it felt like I would never find “my people”.
What has taken me a lifetime to learn is that fitting in is really more about feeling like you matter. We want others to notice, like and understand us. We yearn for connection. We want to know that if something happened to us, someone in this big world would care.
In my quest to lead a happy life, I have learned that acceptance starts from within. I have to like me. Yet, this is sometimes a challenge. There are so many messages being whispered to my soul that I am not enough. When I was younger, I had to work harder at school, participate and win at sports, and look a certain way to be considered “pretty”. All these messages–I don’t know how real they were–made me feel small and inadequate. What I heard and took to heart was that I had to change to earn acceptance. Certainly me, as was, was not enough. What if people found out how weird I really am?
Now I see the world through adult eyes. I have weathered life storms that have given me new perspective. I’ve learned that many people go through life trying to fit in. I’ve learned we’re all sort of doing our best and we all want to matter. More than that, we’re all a little weird. Maybe we’ll never fully blend but we don’t have to–we can create a new story. WE can celebrate rather than judge our differences. WE can help others know that they matter.
Over the last month, I’ve been searching my soul to figure out my purpose. I try to make sense of my journey–the blessings, the heartache, all of it. I’ve been listening to a new whisper. The message is clear that I need to be brave. I need to encourage others to see the good. Because if I can do it with all my baggage, so can you. No matter what hand you’ve been dealt, you can overcome and find blessings. You can seek gratitude.
You need to be brave. I believe we were put on this earth to lift one another up. Every day, we make a choice. We can contribute to a community with love, acceptance, and tolerance. Or, we can get all judgy, mean-spirited, and hateful. Our words have power. WE can choose powerful love messages.
One of my favorite bloggers, Glennon Melton from Momastery, wisely coined the phrase “love wins”. I’m on board with that and I’m going to bravely speak love every day.
Today, will you choose just one person to lift up? Find a way to encourage a friend, a neighbor, a family member, or complete stranger. Today, let love win. Let someone know they matter. You matter. I matter. WE can create a community where we all matter and fit in. : )
Here’s a simple and fun activity to help kick off the St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans.
Never heard of them? Why should blarney stones have all the fun? Leprechaun Lumps are easy to make and kids love busting them open to find their hidden “treasures”. Here’s what you need:
- 1 cup of used coffee grounds
- 1 cup of flour
- 1/2 cup of salt
- 1/2 cup of water
- gold coins or any other small trinket
I usually just throw my grounds into a little container over the course of a week. I then stick them in the freezer to keep from getting moldy and take them out the morning I plan to make the lumps.
In a bowl, mix together coffee grounds, flour, salt and water to form a dough.
Then hand the “dough” over to your kids and let them hide treasures in the middle of the lumps. I use any little fun trinkets I can find including quarters, plastic gold coins, and shamrock necklaces. You could probably stick little lego people inside as well. They bake at a low temperature and so far nothing has melted! ; )
If you have kids that are highly tactile and enjoy getting their hands a little dirty, this is the activity for you!
Next, pop them on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven on 150-200 degrees for about 20 minutes.
Once baked, they turn to a cool shade of gray.
I love that if you take them outdoors, they blend well with stones and rocks.
Our tradition has been to hide them around the yard and let the boys hunt for them. You know, the Irish version of Easter egg hunts! ; )
The part kids like best is breaking them open to get their treasures.
So mix up a batch of Leprechaun Lumps and enjoy the hunt with your kids! You’ll have fun and that’s no blarney!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
We are going on the fourth day of no school. We are in desperate need of a change. Our moods are foul and we are “bored”. Just about the time those winter blues grasp a hold of our hearts, a little dose of sunshine gives us an extra boost.
A lovely group of friends gave me a “Be Happy” jar when I moved and then filled it with heartfelt messages and notes of encouragement.
I love this jar and everything it represents.
It’s that little extra oomph when the days seem long. It’s like a hug for my soul. Whenever I feel lonely, I simply pull out a note and my day instantly improves. It’s that “yes, you matter” message at exactly the right moment.
I decided this jar of joy is too good of an idea to keep a secret. Why not spread some love? Why not bust out our supplies and create a love ripple?
So we gathered:
- jars (recycled spaghetti and sauerkraut jars, thank you!)
- fun scrapbook paper to write messages (but any bit of paper will do)
- playful imaginations and creative juices
- a book of quotes (or use your computer to google some hopeful phrases about friendship, love, and happiness)
- markers or crayons or any writing implements
We scribbled down fun memories shared with friends, encouraging quotes, funny stories, and anything we thought might make someone smile. The boys drew pictures. We just let our imaginations take over…
If you are feeling grumpy, these little babies will turn your mood around.
You can’t be grouchy when you are thinking of someone special or how meaningful that relationship is to you. I find that anytime I feel the funk coming, it’s best to think of someone else. It ALWAYS, ALWAYS brightens my day.
Is there someone you know who could use a lift? Tell him or her. Tell her why she’s awesome and how she inspires you. Share with him how he positively influences you.
Maybe YOU need a mood enhancer and some self-love messages.
Go ahead, get yourself a jar of sunshine and spread that good stuff around!!