Breast Cancer Awareness Month is Every Month

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is Every Month

jsj-photo-logoMake the Time to Save Your Life – Schedule Your Mammogram

By Janet St. James, assistant vice president of strategic communications for HCA North Texas

As a broadcast journalist for nearly 25 years, and a health reporter for 15 of those years, I have covered October Breast Cancer Awareness Month stories many times.  It seems very strange that I, and my own experience, would be the source for this Breast Cancer Awareness blog.

On April 1, 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  
It was April Fool’s Day. But I was no fool. And I had taken serious precautions to reduce the chance that something like this could ever happen to me.

Just a few months prior to my diagnosis, I had had a clean mammogram. In fact, I had 3 mammograms over the course of 18 months as doctors watched a suspicious shadow in my right breast. That shadow was not the cancer. But cancer lurked, and spread, in that same breast, undetected.

I wish I could tell you that I was the one to feel a strange bump during a self-exam and report it to the doctor for follow-up. But, that’s not what happened.

My cancer was found because of a strategic approach I have to medical check-ups.  

jsj-family-photo-logoMost women are recommended to have a baseline screening mammogram at age 40. I’ve had one every year since I was 30 because I have lumpy breasts. I developed cysts easily if I drank too much caffeine. I did breast self-exams regularly, but didn’t panic about every ridge or knot I felt. My breasts were also medically labeled as “dense” which means that cancers can be hard to see within the tissue. So, I also saw a breast specialist every year, in conjunction with the mammogram. I wanted to do everything in my power to reduce the chance cancer could be hiding in my hard-to navigate breast tissue.

Here’s what made the difference: While some people schedule all of their check-up at the same time of year, for instance, around a birthday, I spread my appointments out over the course of the year.

My logic is that if one doctor missed something, perhaps the next would detect it a few months later.

It was during my annual well-woman check-up, purposely scheduled for months after the mammogram, that my gynecologist felt what we both thought was another cyst. A sonogram the following day clearly showed breast cancer that had already spread to the lymph nodes. Had all of my exams been in the same month, it would have given the cancer an extra year to grow.

In the past 6 months, I’ve undergone a double mastectomy, four months of chemotherapy, and six weeks of radiation. I have 2 more surgeries ahead and many years of hormone blocking medications.

Make the time to save your life.

I could urge for better screening for women with dense breasts. I do believe that needs to happen. I could complain about technology missing my cancer. It did. But, medicine isn’t perfect. People aren’t either. So instead, my message is to urge people to be their own strategic defense against cancer.  Make – and keep – those doctor’s appointments year around. Making that time, no doubt, has given me more time to enjoy my family and my life.

Schedule your mammogram.

Breast cancer awareness is every month. Monthly self-breast exams combined with routine mammograms can detect breast abnormalities early and can lead to a greater chance of successful treatment. Make the time this month to take care of you — schedule your mammogram. Start a routine, get screened for breast cancer and encourage others to do the same.

Schedule your screening mammogram online at one of our Solis Mammography locations:

Watch Janet St. James discuss Breast Cancer Awareness month and the issue of mammography and dense breasts.

 

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