As I sat on the edge of the bed toweling the viscous fluid from my breasts, thoughts swirled through my mind. Did I make a mistake not coming sooner? What would the consequences of this be? I was nervous on my way there. I had a distinct feeling of performance anxiety even though I knew all I would need to do is lie there until the task was complete. The stranger rubbed and probed me with his, I’m not sure what to call it, wand? Rod? Forgive me, I’m new to all of this. He hardly said a word. It was all so sterile, so impersonal. When he was finished, he said to put on my clothes and told me I was “extremely dense.”
Wait, wait, I need to back up. But first, now that I have your attention, go get your wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, and daughters, because this is important.
When she was 32, my younger sister was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. Her invasive ductal carcinoma had already metastasized to her lymph nodes by the time they found it. She went through a grueling year and a half of treatment. We sat together for hours as she had poison pumped through her veins. She was zapped with radiation. They cut off her breasts and scraped out her lymph nodes. We thank our lucky stars that it was just a sack of lobules, ducts, fibrous tissue, and fat that ended up in the incinerator and not the vessel that houses her sentient being. In other words, she didn’t die, but she came way too damn close.
After that nightmare, my attention turned to my boobs. Will they try to kill me, too? They seem so small and unassuming. They’ve never tried to hurt anyone before; in fact, they kept my baby alive for a very long time so I feel like I owe them a debt. We’re on good terms. They don’t bother me and I don’t bad-mouth them for not being bigger. But unfortunately, I must view them with suspicion for the rest of my life, so that we can continue living together in harmony.
The situation I described at the beginning of this was, clearly, an ultrasound appointment I had to screen for masses. After clinical breast exams, mammograms, and genetic testing, it was recommended I get ultrasounds because of my sister’s cancer and my mammogram informing me that my breasts were dense in a little blurb in the summary that went something like this:
Dense breast tissue is common and is not abnormal. However, dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of your mammogram and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
If my ultrasounds come back clear, it may be deemed by the oncology powers that be that I am likely no more at risk than the general population (or "gen pop" in this prison called life). But that’s still 1 in 8. That's a roll of one of those 8-sided dice that nerds use (I can say that because I own one, and it’s called an octahedron). I don't like those odds, and you shouldn't be comfortable with them either.
I know that many people are apprehensive of getting cancer screenings because they’re afraid of hearing they have cancer, which of course is counterintuitive but I understand. I am scared of every single exam, test result, and procedure. But I do them anyway because I may not have any control over my body’s abnormal cell growth, but I sure as hell don’t want it to sneak up on me.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in honor of your body, in honor of life and your loved ones, in honor of my little sister, take off your shirt and let doctors have a go at your girls.