There’s a lot of breast cancer in my family. And when I say a lot, I mean doctors raise their eyebrows when they hear about it. So today, I walked into the Georgetown Breast Center for a risk assessment to chat about how to be vigilant.
And let me just say: I know I’m lucky. I personally pay for very expensive health care. Just for me. It costs $300 a month. But that allows me to just walk into a respected place like the Georgetown Breast Center without a referral and get a mammogram that same day. Most insurance companies won’t agree to pay for a mammogram for women at my age (33). But not only did my mom have breast cancer, but four of her sisters have had it — three of them in both breasts. And both of my grandmothers had it, too. My mom and aunt tested negative for the known genes (BRCA 1 & 2) related to breast cancer, but there is probably a gene that hasn’t been discovered that runs in my family.
Today, the nurse practitioner and doctor felt me up — and the technician prodded and pulled and squeezed my breasts and clamped them down into the cold device. After my mammogram, I sat in the waiting room in my white gown and jeans across from a woman in her early 40s, I’m guessing, also in a gown and jeans, whose eyes were red and splotchy. She dabbed her tears with a tissue. And I was in that awkward position of trying to look away, but I couldn’t help but staring, and wanting to reach out to her and comfort her, but knowing that as a stranger, it wasn’t my place.
And then the imaging technician called me back into the imaging room: “The doctor wants two more images,” she said. “She sees something here” — and she pointed to a small round spot on the black-and-white film. In the moment, I tried not to worry — I remembered my doctor saying that 80 percent of the time a mammography shows something suspicious, it’s benign.
But 10 minutes later, when the radiologist called me into the room to go over the results, I looked at her searchingly. She seemed nervous and didn’t smile. And then she said, “Your films are normal.”
There is nothing happy about cancer. There is little you can say to someone who has it to make them feel better — it’s scary. But it can be beat if caught early. I know I have many more years ahead of me of getting screened — and waiting and hoping for that response: “Normal.”