Most of my close friends know that my mother died of breast cancer when I was just 11 years old. The memories are very vivid – of a late diagnosis, chemotherapy sessions and five years of intense pain and suffering. This was in 1980 when there was very little awareness and a lot of stigma attached to the word ‘cancer’.
That’s perhaps why breast cancer awareness is a cause after my own heart. It’s not because I have a strong family history and I could also get it… but because I feel that every woman out there needs to know… for it could make a difference between life and death.
I had my first screening mammogram for breast cancer last month. Having a mammogram is an intense experience. In a sense, it makes you feel vulnerable, because even if you are not afraid, you know there is a result at the end of it. And cancer is still a dreaded word.
People told me that it would be painful. It certainly was not. Okay, there is a little discomfort with having your breasts pressed between two plates six times. But that was it… In a matter of ten minutes, I had the results before me. There was an ultrasound as well… Both the radiographer and the radiologist put me at ease and answered the number of questions I had.
Why do women past a particular age (opinion differs on this) need to have a mammogram? One, because breast cancer is the most common of cancers among women. Two, because apart from masses that can be detected, even the tiniest of micro-calcifications can be studied. And early detection and diagnosis means early cure!
A person whom I know and who is passionate about the cause in Oman told me last year, “People do not hesitate to spend 50 rials on a dress, but are not willing to spend money on a mammogram.”
If you have a family history or the risk factors associated with breast cancer, it’s advisable to have a clinical breast examination regularly apart from self-breast exams. Your doctor will tell you when to have a mammogram done as the age for having one differs from country to country and health centre to health centre.
Be open with your doctor about your fears and about anything your body may be trying to tell you. Do not ignore even the slightest discomfiture…
I know it does not just end with one mammogram. I need to keep having one every year… Am I scared? Maybe a bit… but in the end, I know that being aware also means being positive… that will hopefully be my guiding force for years to come.
(For those in Oman, the National Association for Cancer Awareness (NACA) is having a month-long ‘education and awareness’ exhibition on breast cancer at Qurum City Centre. The Mobile Mammography Unit is stationed there offering free mammograms. Also, there will be a special Cancer Awareness Walk on October 25. Join in, and be aware!)