Tests, Breasts and Maura Tierney

I finally got my letter in the mail the other day.  After six days of waiting.  It was a while before I could bring myself to open it.  Scanning down the form I saw the little box next to ‘Mammogram’ checked and then farther down the letters ‘OK’ written. 

That’s it? 

Don’t get me wrong.  I was very, VERY happy to read those two letters.  It’s just that you’d think the anxiety prior and the actual test would warrant something a little more wordy.  Something like ‘patient reaction to compression’ (OUCH!) or ‘area vs depth upon compression ratio is good’ …..  Just something more than ‘OK.’

At my age, I have had a fair number of mammograms.  Now I am supposed to have them yearly.  Yuck.  They are not fun….but not too bad either.   I am extremely sensitive to the way I am treated when having one.  Insensitivity from a technician or the slightest inking of embarrassment and I go elsewhere.  I like where I get them now.  The technician reminds me to breathe.  I never realized that I wasn’t breathing.  So it’s friendly and fast and they have great magazines.  Not that you get to read any of them to any great extent.  Even though it was busier than I have ever known them to be, I was still in and out rather quickly…..for a medical appointment.

Women – as a rule – are not really talkative when it comes to mammograms and breast care.   At least in my little world they aren’t.  It’s not something that comes up in conversation as a rule.  If it does, we tend to keep things light hearted.  We share ‘war’ stories involving rough technicians who stepped a little too hard on the pedal to the compressor.  Or of mammary glands that were surely seperated from chest walls in the interest of  ‘better’ health care.  We tend to join walks/rides to raise money for breast cancer research and education instead.  Unless someone close to us has an issue.  And in my circle of acquaintences there have been several instances of ‘issues’ in the past few weeks. 

B took advantage of a free mammogram offer during a small business trade show a year ago.  I found out about her surgery and chemo treatments in a lengthy family news letter that came with an invitation to her daughter’s graduation party.  It kind of rocked my heart a little bit.  I was the first grade teacher to three of her now college age five children.  She was a good friend and important part of the ‘village’ that we used to help raise my son years ago.  They moved to another state when he was five.  He has a lot of memories of adventures with her family…not the least of which is always wanting to live in a house with stairs so he could ‘slide’ down them like her kids did.  Today I am a regular visitor to her Caring Bridge site to get up dates on her treatments and to share in her delight of the curls that fall down the back of her head again…finally.

I was surprised at church one Sunday to see prayers requested for S.  She was a  friend and family camping buddy until other responsibilities and interests pulled us in other directions.  I hadn’t seen her in a long while.  And when I did, she was wearing a hat to cover her bald head but her smile was the same.  Normally as regular as clockwork about mammograms, she had put this year’s off because of general busy-ness.  Until a surgeon requested that she have one done before hernia surgery.  Her cancer was stage 3.  Always the optimist,  she is counting her blessings that a hernia forced her to follow through.  Had she waited much longer it might have been stage 4 with fewer options for treatment.

T is a member of a message board that I frequent for author Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  It’s a busy board where fans share thoughts about everything from reality TV shows to monthly reminders that ‘it’s time to check the TaTas!’   I have bookmarked T’s blog since discovering that she is a Teacher and a Mom and a writer like me.  She is facing breast surgery in August and needs to take days off during the first week of school.  I can relate to that extra anxiety of being gone from a new class of fourth graders…..totally. 

I had known for a while that RS had a close call with breast cancer some years ago.  It wasn’t until I asked my Facebook friends to share their mammogram experiences that I got her full story.   It was one of frustrations, friends, decisions and family.  She pissed off an oncologist because she didn’t accept his plan.  She is empowered.  She is a Special Ed Teacher.  And a Wife, a Mom and a Grandmother.   I have learned from her that each and every day is a blessing and to live it the best way that you can.

Maura Tierney was forced to come out with a public statement about her breast cancer situation.  She is an actress that I have followed as a fan for many, many years.  I finally met her after a play in NYC last fall.  Twice!  I have seen all of her movies, watched ‘NewsRadio’ , followed her work on ‘ER’  for nine seasons and was looking forward to her new ensemble series – ‘Parenthood’ – this fall.   That show’s premiere was put on hold due to her ‘health issues.’   NBC’s bungled publicity attempt to keep her medical condition private resulted in a public statement clarify her condition.   She has a breast tumor that requires surgery. 

While I know she is a very private person who likes to keep her personal life…private….I am not sure that she is aware of  how her news as affected the people that frequent the fan message board that I belong to.  We are an international group.  I am the Elder Statesman of sorts there and have been for years.  Sometimes they listen to me and some times they don’t.  When Ms. Tierney’s statement was released there was a frenzy of activity and frustration and not knowing what to do.  Like a group of  caring friends gathering at the local coffee shop, messages were flying.  What can we do?  What is happening?  Anyone find any more news?  Finally we did something proactive.  We set up a poll where members could post that they had either gotten a mammogram or done a self check of their breasts because of Maura Tierney’s statement.  Things calmed down significantly.  We shared stories of friends and family members that had gone through the same sort of thing.  We shared links that described proper steps for self checking.   What to look for.  We were talking.   And I scheduled my over due mammogram.

My daughter is fourteen.  She would definitely fall into the ‘itty bitty’ category a friend described when telling me about the ‘spatula’ tool that was on the mammography machine when she went for her mammogam.  It was for members of that ‘club’ and male patients (and yes, L, I did know that guys can get breast cancer too)  When I mentioned that I had an upcoming appointment, I asked my daugter if she would like to go with me….to see what it was all about.  She cocked an eyebrow and said, “Now why would I want to do that?”  Heh.  We were talking.  And now she knows a little more about taking care of herself.

And D tickles me to death.  She schedules her mammogram for the very same time on the very same day every year.  And wears her lucky panties.  She is an internet friend I will always want in my corner.  We ‘talk’ and we laugh.  And I am reminded that there are others with the very same apprehensions that I have.

I think that people in the public venue like Sheryl Crow, Christina Applegate….and Maura Tierney….have the means of reaching people.  Reaching women…and men….to remind them.   Remind them that it’s important to self check.  Remind them to make those mammogram appointments.  Remind them to take better care of themselves.  Remind them to listen to their doctors and to listen to themselves.  Remind them to talk to one another and support one another.

Of course their stories are painful….and private.  We are lucky that they are driven to share them.  And they are not alone.  There are thousands…no…millions….of stories like theirs.  But they are the very public voice of my friends and I.  We hope that you are hearing them loud and clear.

Check your breasts. 

Do it today.

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