Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Eagle Butte
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I had a mammogram: this is my story


I had my first mammogram. My chances of getting breast cancer are 50 to 85 percent higher, because my mother had breast cancer. That thought alone scares me — one day I could have breast cancer. Luckily, my mother’s cancer was non-aggressive, and she is now cancer free.

Since she was diagnosed earlier this year, I have spent many hours researching breast cancer.

In 2008, I lost my father to multiple myeloma, which is a bone marrow cancer. Statistically, it was rare that my father, a healthy Native American man, only 47 years young, would have such a cancer.

After a year-long battle, my father’s cancer took over and at age 48, on August 8, 2008, he made his journey into the spirit world.

To say that losing my father was devastating is a huge understatement. Losing my dad has been the single most traumatic and painful event in my life.

Fast-forward 10 years. We learned that my mom has breast cancer. Receiving news like this literally knocks the wind out of you and can bring you to your knees; however, much like we did after my father’s passing, my family and I found ourselves back on our feet, ready to fight this ugly cancer that had invaded my mom’s body.

After numerous visits to her team of oncologists and radiologists, and after getting two biopsies, followed by weeks of waiting for results, and finally, after getting a mastectomy, my mom is now living cancer-free. 

My mom’s oncologist called me one day and was very blunt — he said out loud what I had already known and feared — that in my lifetime I am 50-85 percent more likely to get breast cancer because of my mom’s medical history, and because of this potential risk, I should get a mammogram done as soon as possible.

I did not hesitate — I scheduled my well-woman exam and requested a mammogram. Within a week, I was at the Cheyenne River Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program with my husband, waiting to be called in.

My husband — he sure is one of a kind — knew that I was nervous about the appointment and about my mammogram results.

He took time off of work and said he would be with me during every step of my mammogram (thank you my love).

Not only was he with me, he volunteered to photograph the appointment for this story, which brings up another point — why would I choose to photograph this most intimate and vulnerable event in my life?

I did it because it matters. My ultimate goal and sincerest hope is that this story, my story, these photos, will encourage you to talk about breast cancer and women’s health.

Think of eight women in your life, go ahead — perhaps your mom, daughter, aunt, co-workers, maybe even yourself.

Now think of this: statistics show that 1 in 8 women who you thought of will get breast cancer at some point in her life. It could be you. It could be me. It was my mom.

This is why mammograms are so important. This is why having an annual well-woman exam is so important. They can save your life.

My mammogram appointment was great. Isn’t that kind of an odd thing to say about an appointment that can make a woman feel uncomfortable and in a way, perhaps, invaded? I mean come on, you let a stranger (and by that, I mean the mammogram technician — more on her in a bit), handle your breasts. Not only is someone you don’t know grabbing your breasts, but your breasts are compressed and squished down during the imaging session.

I must to tell you, it does not hurt. There is a slight discomfort and an uneasiness with it all, but that lasts just a few seconds as the mammogram machine takes images of your breasts.

What are mere seconds of discomfort compared to a lifetime of knowing your breast health?

It should be a no-brainer for women to want to know their physical well-being and overall health.

Back to the mammogram technician, who was Kelly during my exam– what an amazing person she is. Not only did she answer all my questions, she was so easy-going, informative, and patient.

She explained everything she would be doing before she did it — not once did I feel caught off guard or unsure about “what’s next.”

Her personality was warm, fun, and funny. I tell you, there is nothing like a funny anecdote to help put me at ease in an uncomfortable situation.

After a quick few seconds of taking images, we were done. Kelly took time to show me my images on the screen. She did not give a medical opinion about my images; rather, she educated me about how the mammogram machine screens for abnormalities within the breast tissue.

She was clear, concise, and answered all my questions.

I told Kelly that as a child I heard women in my life who have had a mammogram say that their exam was physically painful.

Kelly promised me that I would walk away from the appointment saying, “Well, it really wasn’t that bad.” I must be honest; she was absolutely correct.

My mammogram appointment was not that bad. Aside from the few seconds of discomfort, my mammogram was quick, fun (Kelly made it fun), and informative.

I now feel so much more prepared in my journey as a woman who has a family history of breast cancer. I can now confidently say that I am aware and educated on my current state of breast health. Most importantly, I have a basis of comparison for the rest of my life.

Please, dear reader, talk about breast cancer and women’s health with those whom you love and cherish.

Let us help the women we love become better prepared in their lives to be the healthiest they can be. Ahehee’.