No, I'm not a flasher. Except when I go skinnydipping in the lake, and then I hope it's only the fish watching.
And no, the subject of this post is not meant to titillate (no pun intended), so get your mind out of the gutter. It's about my being a 60+ woman who was too afraid to have a mammogram. There, I said it. Whew. Even saying it was hard. Because I know what you're thinking.
You're probably rolling your eyes right now, like every doctor who tried to talk sense into me that I refused to listen to. None of them actually rolled their eyes, at least not in my presence, but I sensed their incredulity. How could an intelligent, seemingly normal person be opposed to a potentially life-saving medical test?
I'll tell you. I was raised by a mom who was deeply suspicious of the medical profession. Not once did any of her six kids see the inside of a pediatrician's office. None of us were immunized; she was convinced you could get cancer from a measles shot. And she was intelligent and otherwise normal, too. I'm not sure of the origin of her suspicions. All I know is, if there's an alternative remedy to a common ailment, I've tried it. And believe me, you learn at an early age not to be a whiner when the "remedy" for whatever ails is an enema! (Mom's favorite cure-all).
This doesn't mean I raised my kids the same way. My son and daughter were both immunized and no strangers to the pediatrician's. For most of my adult life I've gone in for my annual physical and, in recent years, stripped down for the full-body scan at my dermatologist's bi-annually. Then, when I hit 50, I started getting the mammogram speech from my doctors. I figured that with no history of cancer in my family, there was no rush to get tested. And surely no need. The truth is, I was scared. Another thing my mom instilled in me was a deep fear of X-rays.
In the year 2000, I was hospitalized for 2 weeks with acute diverticulitis, and had no choice in the matter. I had so many x-rays during that time, I became convinced I would glow in the dark if I had one more. Then I WOULD get cancer, from the radiation.
Flash forward to present day. I live in New York City but am often found at my adopted home in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, where I come several months of the year to write. A few weeks ago, I paid a visit to the local walk-in clinic, Burnett Medical Center, for a minor health issue (allergies) and had the good fortune to meet an extraordinary doctor, Dr. Adeola Jolayemi, known in these parts simply as Doctor Jo. Doctor Jo quizzed me after noticing I hadn't checked the box on my patient history form for the date of most recent mammogram.
When I confessed my fear, she didn't roll her eyes or lecture me. In the past whenever I sensed a doctor thinking I was a nut job (if a well-spoken and presentable one), I'd feel my back go up. Instead, this time I listened as Doctor Jo looked me in the eye and said, "There are women in poor countries who are dead of breast cancer because this test wasn't available to them. You have it at your fingertips. Use it." Because she appealed to me as one intelligent woman to another, I didn't feel judged or crazy. When she was done I thanked her, and said, "OK, you convinced me. I'll do it." I booked an appointment that day.
Today I went in for my very first ever mammogram. I have heart palpitations as I write this, just thinking about it--and it's over and done with! I'm thinking about my childhood friend, Kay, who died a year ago from complications caused by cancer, and who tore a hole in the fabric of my life in exiting this world. I'm thinking, "What if I'm next?" But mostly I'm relieved. It's behind me. And I'm not glowing (it's still light out, so I can state factually I won't. Check with me after dark).
The radiology technician, Cindy, couldn't have been more reassuring. (Everyone I've met here in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, is so NICE.) Turned out Cindy lives just across the lake and is a neighbor of a cousin of my friend Jon Giswold who owns the house I stay at. She made me feel comfortable as we chatted. Well, as comfortable as you can be with your boobs squeezed in what feels like a vise. We joked about the "pasties" you stick on your nipples prior to the exam. It was over and done with before I had a chance to break into a sweat thinking about Mom rolling over in her grave.
I see this as my own personal ice-bucket challenge. I read a great quote the other day: "We are all victims of our unexamined beliefs." I realized I'd been letting my mom's fears poison my natural good sense. I was clinging to a belief that dated back to childhood and was perhaps groundless, and certainly not rooted in the reality of present day. Now I sit tight and wait for the results.
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