I noticed a small knot under my arm while taking a shower. When it was still there a month later, I decided it was time to have it checked out. Since it was time for my annual physical anyway, I figured I’d kill two birds since my doctor was probably going to send me for a mammogram anyway. Which is exactly what he did.
I promptly called to make an appointment the next day, only to be told that they needed to receive an order from my doctor before they could schedule the mammogram. After the order is received, it takes 48 hours for the order to be entered into the system and then I could make the appointment. Needless to say, this process took almost a week of back and forth before they finally received the order. Only this time when I try to make the appointment, the nurse says “you are not due for a mammogram until February.” I had to explain that I had an abnormal exam and the doctor requested it be done now. “Oh,” she said, “then they have to send over a diagnostic order, you need to tell them to send another order.” Upon hearing this I exploded! I was able to speak to a manager and get them to call and get the order straightened out and finally made the appointment.
If you’ve never had a mammogram, I must warn you, it’s a bit uncomfortable. I guess I would compare it to having a pap smear or wearing spanx—it’s uncomfortable, it’s not pretty, but it MUST be done! It’s the equivalent to slapping your boob on a cold table and having someone press a book down on it until they can’t get it any flatter. Oh but they can! Now someone steps on the book! The technician had a knob and she cranks, 1…2…3, takes the pic, it automatically releases your boob from captivity and you’re done.
After finally having the mammogram and ultrasound, I had to go through more runaround to get the results sent to my doctor. The radiologist had the wrong fax number. Fax number? All the technology we have and they are still faxing results? Really? By the time the doctor got back to me, I had already received the results via snail mail. No sign of cancer, thank God! I took it upon myself to make a follow-up appointment with a breast specialist to find out what the lump is. Turns out, women my age have very dense breast tissue (which can also hide tumors—see this article). I received the same diagnosis the first time I found a lump. But I don’t believe in self-diagnosis especially with something so critical to my health. If you find a lump anywhere for any reason, get it checked out…period.
How fitting to experience this episode during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Maybe this lump decided to show up at this particular time for 2 reasons:
1. So that I could remind my friends of the importance of doing monthly self-exams and to make taking care of YOU a priority. You can only take care of your family and those that love you if you are still here to do it. Take a moment to make those appointments that you have been putting off and add staying healthy to your “to-do” list. And pass this advice along to your friends and family.
2. So that I could help you encourage those around you to become better advocates for themselves and become an advocate to someone in need. Perhaps you are the one who needs an advocate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Most times, it feels like health care providers and insurance companies are more concerned about their processes and procedures than they are about their patients. Did any of them ever consider what it feels like to be a woman who has found a lump in her breast, or had a child that suddenly fell ill for no reason? The last thing you want is to wade through a bunch of red tape to get answers. You may have a family member or a friend who is just not equipped to deal with what it takes to navigate the healthcare system. Help them by coming up with a list of questions to ask the doctor, going with them to appointments for support, or researching available resources.
And for those that have fought cancer and those that are still fighting, remember:
The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it. ~C.C. Scott
Update: Ok, I’m going to be honest here. After sharing the story above, you would think that certainly I would be doing a routine breast exam each month. Unfortunately, that’s still not the case. It’s more like every two or three months–which is just not good enough. Since my smartphone manages to help me keep track of everything else on my schedule, I’m going to see if it can help me remember to do my self-exams as well. So I downloaded the Pink Bra iPhone app. In addition to sending you a monthly reminder, the app gives directions and illustrations on how to perform the exam. I’ve already set my reminder for next month. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Do you have any helpful tips on how to remember to do your monthly self-exam?
Please share this post with all of the amazing women in your life!
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