My new primary care practitioner asked me a lot of questions about my family's health history. I have quite a few chronic illnesses running through my family: high blood pressure, schizophrenia, diabetes, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, alcoholism. One I haven't talked about, though, is my mother's survival with breast cancer.
My mother was diagnosed earlier the same year I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. She discovered the lump in her chest on her own and went in to have it checked out. She started chemotherapy very soon afterward.
My mother has always been a healthy person, barely even getting colds. So it was beyond difficult to see her deteriorate. The chemo had her vomiting several times a day. She coughed a lot. She even coughed through her sleep. Then came the hair loss.
I can't tell you how many times I cried watching her go through this. How many times I'd check on her during the night to make sure cancer didn't take her in her sleep. Her coughing fits woke me up sometimes. Or maybe I was just so aware of them that they woke me.
I didn't understand why this had to happen to her. I wanted her to see me graduate from high school and college. I wanted her to see me get married. I wanted her to see me become a writer. I wanted her to see me succeed in the world.
Once the lump was gone, the doctors wanted to make sure it didn't come back. So my mom had to lose her left breast. Losing one of her breasts was one of the hardest things for my mother. For a while, it was difficult for her to believe she was a woman anymore.
I don't have the skill to describe to you the scar that's permanent across her chest where her left breast used to be.
Sometime later, her prosthetic breast came in the mail. Though she frequently had to keep my brother and me from playing with it, it made her feel a lot better. She was able to wear bras evenly again. She was able to wear her favorite shirts again. Once her hair grew back out, she was finally back to normal again.
Since my mother was diagnosed close to the age I am now, my doctor ordered me a breast exam. The first I'd ever heard of the exam was through my mother, and it sounded painful. Many other women since then have said how painful it is. So I figured that wasn't something I'd worry about till God willing I reached 40.
Yet at 37 here I was going to Metro Hospital to get my first breast exam.
The technician had me take off my deodorant since the majority of deodorants have aluminum in them making it show up on the images. She put some kind of special tape over my nipples before we officially began.
Since I'm very heavy chested, there had to be many images taken since my chest couldn't fit in just a few images. There were side images as well as direct images. I saw the need for the machine to come down on my breasts and make them flat, but that didn't make it any more comfortable.
Sometimes she had it come down really tight, other times it was just uncomfortable. The side view pictures were more painful than the direct pictures since my breast had to stay up at an unnatural angle on the machine. And of course, I had to hold my breath whenever a picture was being taken.
"What a test men came up with for us right?" the tech said to me as she was maneuvering my breast for another photo.
So there's a sneak peek into what a breast exam will be like. Though it's uncomfortable, it's needed.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month this month so consider scheduling a mammogram — even if you don't have a family history of breast cancer as I do.