Mammogram? Every 12 Months?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this is November. Soooo, I’m late—or am I? Actually, I have a reason for making this blog a November thing.
Please bear with my timing. Another version of this text was printed in the October/November 2014 issue of one of our local magazines, Marvelous! It's always a timely subject.
I don’t like mammograms.
Now that’s an understatement. No fun, and you have to put your pride away, wear no deodorant, strip from the waist up, and submit breasts to an ice-cold machine for mammo-squeezes.
So, why do I push myself to do this mammo thing anyway, year after year? I want the weight of worry lifted off my mind. That’s reason enough for many of us.
In March 2011, I did my self-check and found a lump. I was in shock, not believing it, not wanting it to be true. Surprisingly, I slept that night. The next morning, I placed a call to my family doctor’s office, and the wheels started turning: mammogram, ultra-sound, needle biopsy. My surgeon-to-be said, “No positive confirmation, but it looks suspicious.”
The results were conclusive. Yes, I had breast cancer.
Cancer runs in my family—a grandmother, a sister, a brother, two nieces. One niece is a breast cancer survivor. Even though I knew this, I was not on guard.
I had not practiced due diligence every month with the self-exam. I had not counted how many months since the last mammogram. I had not marked it on the calendar. Instead, I would smile and say, “Oh, I forgot…guess I didn’t write it down.”
My wake-up call was when the doctor said, “We need to remove the breast and some lymph nodes. It’s Stage III, and it’s an aggressive type of cancer.” That’s when it hit me. He was talking life and death. He was talking to me about me.
My mind finally had a grasp on reality. I would suffer as many women, older and younger, had suffered. I would face chemo, hair loss, surgery, loss of breast, grief, more chemo, feelings of nausea, radiation, more chemo, a prevention medication. I would do it all, but no guarantees were offered.
My second thought leaned toward my adult sons. How would they handle the news? I wanted to protect them and say that we’d probably caught it in time. For sure, I wanted them to see that we were not dilly-dallying about treatment. We were highly pro-active after the diagnosis.
It turned out that my support system was already in place: family, church, neighbors, friends, Peitz Cancer House, and a great oncology team at Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, Arkansas.
I am a retired mental health counselor. It was my job to help others with their troubles, at least help them to see their problems and offer options. Also, I was an active poet who’d authored two books by the time of my diagnosis.
Suddenly, I was in no position to help others find their way, and I could not think to write.
I was “grounded” by my husband in whatever sense of that word you can imagine. I was going nowhere except to the hospital and doctor visits. I put my car keys in his hands. I was too tired to go anywhere I didn’t have to go anyway. God and my husband were in charge. I let go.
It was springtime. The beauty in the Ozarks was knocking at every window, at every door. And I could see it! Nature was singing—I was not deaf or blind.
I longed for every flower and bird to give comfort and to become my teacher. I watched as nature bowed, lifted its head, praised the Maker, sang, waited, accepted things as they came. Good lessons for me.
A dear friend said, “Just another bump in the road....There’s light at the end of this tunnel, and it’s not a train!” She was right. Exactly what I needed to hear. I could no longer pray, so I rested, knowing I was being lifted up by friends in prayers. How grateful I continue to be for those prayer warriors.
Treatment was not a breeze. In fact, it rocked my world. I could not risk being around random germs. I missed grandchildren terribly. Somewhat like the Covid pandemic.
When I was at the end of my final round of chemo, it was Thanksgiving. My heart was full—we were brimming over with love, gratitude, and thanksgiving. A holy time.
Reconstructive surgery came three years after the treatments. It is amazing to me that options exist for someone with Stage III, aggressive breast cancer. Grateful to all my doctors and nurses. They operated as a team, offering guidance each step of the way.
This is my story. It’s what I can give to you.
Cancer survivors have stories. They lived through something that was strange and difficult. Consider it a gift if one opens up and tells you his/her story.
My final words: If you feel something is not quite right, trust that you know your body. Become proactive.
Go see your doctor, get a mammogram, schedule the next mammogram twelve months ahead, and do those monthly breast exams.
P.S. The comment section of my blog at patdurmon.com is up and running again. Hooray! Always happy to hear from my readers.
Pat Durmon in 2014, with her garden phlox. Photographed by her ever-faithful husband, Jimmy Durmon.