In 1984, when I was 26 and newly married, my doctor found a lump on my breast. I was totally freaked, after all I’d seen Love Story. I just knew I was going die and I was terrified I wouldn’t be brave and noble but sniveling and craven, which was, for some reason, more important than dying.
I rushed off of West Penn Hospital and my first ever mammogram. As frightened as I was I would have agreed to just about any medical procedure--leeches included, to survive.
However, after my first session with the Lucite plates; the squishing, the pain, the surreal flattening of that which is suppose to be round, I thought: “You have got to be joking.”
Fortunately, for me, it was all good news; no further tests, no prescribed treatment. So long, toots.
Twenty glib years later my doctor finds a lump and I’m back at West Penn and I am flabbergasted when they present me with the same ridiculously inept contraption I met in 1984.
Just to give this some perspective:
In 1984 the fax machine had just arrived on scene and was the latest in workplace technology. It was an imaging amazement and we would all gather around to watch the curling pages of “facsimiles” from across town or even across the country. Twenty years later the fax machine is all but obsolete.
In 1984 I was the envy of all who needed to communicate via words because I had an IBM Selectric. The Selectric held up to 20 pages of text, which could be edited on a 1 inch by 7-inch screen, two lines of copy at a time.
These marvels of technology from 1984 are long gone, replace by even more fantastical things like world wide email, full color high speed copiers, scanners, and desktop computers that can hold thousands of pages of text and images.
And yet there has not been one innovation to the mammogram? Not even heated Lucite plates? The mammogram, the most vital screening test for a deadly disease that is a risk for half of the human race --and nothing?
Millions of dollars are spent annually to exhort women to get a mammogram. But how much money goes to making this test less miserable and more accurate?
They were able to successfully launch a rocket, guide it all the way to Mars, drive a car around on the surface of a freezing planet, pick up rocks and look at them, but not one of these rocket scientists has figured out how to look at breast tissue that’s right here on earth?
When I was pregnant they did a weekly sonogram that allowed them to count the chambers of the baby’s heart, measure leg bones, and determine gender but sonogram technology is not available for breast examines until after you have endured and “failed” a mammogram.
And mammograms are not just painful, they are not especially good at distinguishing between harmless abnormalities and deadly cancer. I’ve known many women who have endured biopsies, physically and mentally torturous, only to find the procedure was unnecessary. And, because they’re so relieved, they don’t complain.
I’m sure I have some of the science wrong here, but I don’t think I’m wrong about the neglect.
So, during this month of awareness, every time you’re urged to get a mammogram, scolded for putting it off, and, before you chastise yourself for being recklessly neglectful, write a letter to American Cancer Society and ask them how they’re coming with finding a better tool than the mammogram for detecting breast cancer.
I apologize for getting political in this space but a dear friend of Pgh Sisters in Crime is fighting round two with breast cancer, and...well, it's on my mind as she's in my prayers.