If you haven't had a mammogram in recent years, go schedule one today. I was going to post something very insightful regarding life, death and the fairness or unfairness of cancer, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Instead, I will write about what you can do regarding early detection and treatment. It can save your life.
Seven and a half years ago, I went to get my annual checkup with my gynecologist. Year in and year out, my gynecologist had given me the form for scheduling my mammogram. And year in and year out, I did not schedule a mammogram.
I had had one mammogram done a long time ago and I had not liked it. Having your boobs squished is no fun at all, and after all, why should I bother with another one any time soon? There was no history of breast cancer in my family; I had given birth to two children before turning 30; I didn't smoke; drank maybe once or twice a year; exercised regularly; kept a healthy diet; and had no lumps in my breasts.
In other words, I was the poster child for NOT getting breast cancer.
Breast cancer was something that happened to other people.
Why on Earth did I decide to schedule the mammogram this time? Beats me. The point is I did.
It is also amazing how we lie to ourselves. According to me, only a couple of years had elapsed since that annoying first mammogram. However, when the labs went looking for the films to compare with the new ones, they could not find them. And they could not find them because I had had that mammogram not two, but ten years earlier.
Like I said, it is amazing how we lie to ourselves.
When the films came back, the doc said that there appeared to be something that may or may not be benign calcifications, but that they wanted to check it anyway.
I still didn't worry.
Cancer scares didn't scare me. After all, it wasn't going to happen to me, right? At the end of the day it would be just a spooky thing but nothing to worry about. Still,I went ahead and had that awful biopsy done where you are suspended on your stomach while they poke your boob with a needle and take a sample of the teensy weensy little pin sized anomalies.
(And if you have small acreage in your chest, it will hurt more than if you have ample tracts of land.)
(I am ready for my torture Mr. De Mille.)
After that ordeal, I went back to the doctor expecting him to tell me "No worries, it was just a calcification. Very common. Go home and sin no more."
Instead he told me that the little devils were malignant and that I had what is known as DCIS. This means that all those little pin-pricks in the film were were still residing in my milk ducts and had not invaded anything else. There were also lots of them. It looked like somebody had shot my breast with a shotgun full of those guys.
"You know?" said my doctor. "If you had waited a couple of years, you would have probably had a tumor the size of an orange. You are very lucky."
The rest is history. I will not bore you with the details of my mastectomy and recovery. What I am trying to say is that my survival was not due of my being smarter or more cautious or better prepared than anyone. I was stupid, I was reckless, and in my arrogance I did not take care of myself.
I was also very, very lucky.
I was lucky in that I got that fateful mammogram done in time.
I was lucky in that the cancer was detected before it went anywhere.
I was lucky in that I had good insurance coverage that paid for everything.
I was lucky in that I had access to excellent medical care.
I was lucky in that I worked at a place -- and had a boss -- that would not put me on the street because I was sick.
I was lucky to have a man by my side who was my rock and loved me and supported me through the entire ordeal. (You have no idea how many men buckle under pressure, and how many of them cheat on their women, leave them, or behave like total assholes because they can't bear the idea of them being ill or loosing their breasts. At that point, it's much better to go through your ordeal alone.)
All in all, I was lucky.
I also learned that we have limited time in this world. That the year only has 52 weekends. That there are places to go and things to do and that I don't know if I will have time to do it all before I die. That even though my prognosis is great and that it's not likely that I will get the cancer back, life is something that is given to us and that is in limited supply. And than when my friend Death comes to collect me, I want to have something to show for it.
Other women are dying around me of the same disease. Yet, I am still alive. I don't know why I am still alive. If there was any justice in this world, I should have been dead. After all, I was reckless and arrogant. I did not deserve a second chance.
But a second chance I got, and I am grateful for it.
We do not beat my friend Death. No one does. But we can take advantage of Life while we have it.
So live on. Those who left before us did. They are the brave ones. They are the ones who hung in there through the pain and the tears, and who left us with all the grace they had.
You don't need to be a cancer survivor to wake up every morning and tell yourself "I am still alive. I don't know why, but there must be a reason. Let's make it count."
And yes, let's make it count.
We owe it to them.
We owe it to ourselves.
And that's all there is.