For many years, I nervously joked about mammograms. “A mammogram! When you choose to send the very breast.” Ha, ha. Maybe if I joked about it, I’d never get it. But as I witnessed my friends diagnosed with cancer and fighting mightily for their lives, it didn’t seem so funny.
This year, I wondered if it was my turn. A couple of weeks ago, I was at Munson’s Smith Family Breast Health Center, dressed in a pink hospital gown, sitting on a hospital bed and craning my neck to look at thin layers of black and white waves undulating on an ultrasound screen. I had no idea what I was viewing.
I got a first phone call from Munson when I was on my way to report on a badly behaving mute swan. It was sweltering outside and I couldn’t find the Silver Lake address; I had pulled over to call for directions and was anxious and hot when the scheduling clerk delivered the news they had “seen something” and wanted to do a follow-up mammogram and ultrasound.
I said I didn’t have time for a daytime appointment because I had to work. That really wasn’t the problem. The heat — and my long-held denial that it couldn’t happen to me — simply melted my good sense.
Well, the clerk put me on with the nurse, who was a little disturbed about my priorities. The car fan was noisy, and I thought she said the word, “squamous,” “saw something the size of half a pea,” “you really should get in.”
Overwhelmed by the day, I hung up without making an appointment.
After I got back to my desk, I Googled “squamous” and read that the primary squamous cell of the breast is a “very rare and aggressive malignancy.” I thought of my left breast, which had been itchy for the past six months. Hmm, “itchy breast” could be a symptom of inflammatory breast cancer. I began to panic.