When Breast Cancer Runs In Your Family {And What To Expect During A Mammogram}

When Breast Cancer Runs In Your Family {And What To Expect During A Mammogram} www.christasterken.com

 

3 reasons cause me to pick up the phone and dial the mammography office each year. Their names are Kim, Kathy and Jeni.

I don’t always call in the right month, though I used to. As the years pass, my penchant for orderly appointments gets shoved aside. My reminder letter, pushed to the bottom of the stack of papers.

You see my Aunt Kim got her mammograms, but by my age cancer had taken her from us. Until her death, I believed people could fight cancer and win. I stopped believing that.

My Aunt Kathy, Kim’s baby sister, was next. She got it about 5 years ago. She is a fighter. I didn’t think she could do it, but she is still here. I am grateful every day. She gets her mammograms.

My Mom, Kim and Kathy’s sister, was the most recent. Last year.

Jeni had a radical double mastectomy. You can read her story, from her daughter’s eyes here.  We are celebrating one year of survival and good health for mom.

 

 

When breast cancer runs in your family {and what to expect during a mammorgram} www.christasterken.com

 

 

Cancer is scarier than a mammogram

Mammograms are scary for so, so many of you. They are for me too.

For several years, I had to come back every six months for more views. In the week following each mammogram, for ultrasounds.  Those were just part of the routine.

It is the calendar age. The one that has passed Kim’s lifetime and marks my own. That is the fear. Yet I’ll always go.

Listen, you can find countless authoritative sounding studies, opinions, and the latest scientific facts to back up claims of why you should/shouldn’t get a mammogram.

Let's just address the fear driven non-choice (because fear isn't really an educated choice). Click To Tweet

 

Age, race, or even gender doesn’t protect you from breast cancer, nor is it an automatic death sentence

This is a tough topic.

It is hard to talk about something that is a joyous relief for some; a tremendous loss for another.

You might think you know how this story ends, but there are a few good twists coming.

As in Genesis 50:20,  You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”

 

 

When breast cancer runs in your family {and what to expect during a mammorgram} www.christasterken.com

 

 

What To expect during a mammogram

  • You’ll check in and take care of paperwork at the front desk. If you have any family history, bring as much information as you can to your initial doctor visit
  • You’ll be brought back to a dressing room where you’ll receive a robe. The bra and shirt will be removed.  There will be wipes to remove deodorant if you are wearing any, though they’ll ask you not to that day to protect the machines.  When you are ready, you’ll come to the waiting room. A women-only waiting room, no one else will see you. I’ve been to many different ones over the years, and they are ALL common in their pursuit to ease your fear.
  • The technician will bring you into a dimly lit room, where the x-ray machine is. I’ve included pictures here so you won’t be shocked. Usually, the breast is removed from your gown and put between two plastic plates. There is a compression time while the plates grow steadily tighter. This is to flatten the breast and get the best image possible. Yes, this is embarrassing. No doubt.  Women worry their chest is too big, small, flat, distorted, etc. A good technician is fully trained for these scenarios.  Remember, she was trained in this because she cares about the health of women. One sister to another.
  • Expect some discomfort. Brief, super brief. When they can get a good angle, they’ll step behind a clear screen and ask you to hold your breath. It scans, then immediately decompresses. That quick.
  • They might ask you to return to the waiting room. This is to make sure the x-rays turn out. If they send you home, don’t worry, it just depends on the facility. Some places have them seen by a doctor that day, some don’t.
  • Back in the dressing room, they’ll have deodorant. Don’t get hung up on things like sweatiness, or any physical thing. They want to save your life, not mock you.
  • This is the most important part, perhaps. Just like a mammogram isn’t a guarantee they’ll always FIND cancer if they call you back? That doesn’t mean you HAVE cancer. Please, please don’t assume it is bad. It could be a shadow, a cyst, so many things. That.are.not.deadly.  Not. Cancer. Practice saying that to yourself.

 

 

When breast cancer runs in your family {and what to expect during a mammorgram} www.christasterken.com

 

 

This year sucked

I cried, randomly, often at pretty much everything for weeks. I couldn’t figure out why I was such a mess. It took a friend putting together the timing.

Of course I was scared. A year ago, I was helping my mother drain her tubes following a major surgery to remove her breasts.

Of course I was scared. I’d seen Kim and Kathy go through every treatment.

Of course I was scared. It could be me.

I love my mother, and my daughters love me. That is why I go.

Science is strong for mammograms being women’s best defense in detecting cancer. Even stronger in my world? The love of family. This time, The letter came in Fall. I called two weeks ago. But I called.

Don't let your fear make decisions for you. You are stronger than you know. Click To Tweet

 

 

When breast cancer runs in your family {and what to expect during a mammorgram} www.christasterken.com

 

Fighting is what you do

Kim’s death was brutal. It shattered our family. Some of those pieces were never put back together.

But others? They shone her light with amazing brilliance. Her funeral was huge, so inspired was the community by her life. Her zest for life and her love for people. That was beautiful.

People knew God because they knew Kim.

Kathy’s cancer was a long drawn out battle. She was war torn, near defeated, but not quite.

Can I share something I am really proud of about this woman? She taught preschool age children. She knew, intimately knew, after her sister’s fight, what was coming.

And she was determined to remove the stigma, the fear from their lives. She was going to beat it she decided, and in her story, that is what happened. In the meantime? During the war years, she went to work.

She dragged her sick and suffering body, when it was safe, to those little-beloved children.  When she lost her hair, she took her wig off and let them see. An in-class Q & A cancer representative. She had many setbacks and in those, in the many skirmishes, she fought on. Kathy had someone that needed her. My cousin, Allison, is her daughter. She has Down Syndrome, and Kathy needed her to have a mother. It was a beautiful, heartache of a journey. Kathy sacrificed so much. And she is still here, doing well. People knew how to be a warrior when they knew Kathy.

Jeni’s cancer was caught early enough to make preemptive choices.

She was prepared to do what she felt was necessary. People knew how to make courageous choices with determination when they knew Jeni.

 

 

When breast cancer runs in your family {and what to expect during a mammorgram} www.christasterken.com

 

Your turn. Has fear ever kept you from pursuing knowledge in your health journey?

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4 thoughts on “When Breast Cancer Runs In Your Family {And What To Expect During A Mammogram}

  1. I have never been offered deodorant, and I’ve been multiple times. That would be a nice touch.

    I’ve had lumps removed, ultrasounds, a needle biopsy, but no cancer. Praise God! Heart disease runs in our family. Some form of vascular problems took my aunts. That’s why I take blood pressure medicine.

    The one time I didn’t want to come back for follow up is when they sent me to a surgeon for follow up. It was after a friend had died from cancer – not breast cancer. Also, I had had surgery when I was in my early 20s that another physician told me was unnecessary. That made it difficult to go to a surgeon who usually wants you to have surgery.

    The tests are so much better now, and you can pay extra and get a 3D ultrasound. Those help you avoid needless follow up and scares. Waiting for results of that needle ultrasound was extremely nerve wracking. However, my female physician at that time had had breast cancer and found it herself. She understood what it was like to wait. She called me after hours to let me know it was OK.

    1. Thank you Eva for sharing story, I do think that will be a blessing to someone. It can be hard to trust the medical system sometimes, esp. if you had a situation like that~ We have a dear friend that is a surgeon. He prays with every patient before, and prays for them during. It is a beautiful reminder that the majority of medical professionals are caring people doing the best they can. It sucks there are others who don’t have the patient interest first. What a kind physician, and a comfort to have a woman who understood enough to make that personal call. Be blessed Eva, thank you

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