Breast Task Force … (Not Again!!!)

25 Apr

Her left breast has a deep dimple underneath a 2” scar. It has lost some of the fullness that use to mirror that of its twin that is nearby. Changed though it is, she is forever grateful to have it. She was over 50 when she was diagnosed.

The first few sentences of this blog entry are not a crude attempt at “Boob Porn.” They are a description of the landscape of the left breast of a friend of mine as she told it to me. Her breast now includes what she refers to as battle scars; significant reminders of her battle with breast cancer.

We may think that far too many women have a similar description but they are, for the most part, testimonies of lives that have been saved because of early breast cancer detection.

Six years after my own battle with breast cancer, I believe I may have won. If not won (none of us is ever sure about that “winning thing”) at least I have survived this far & am more grateful than I will ever be able to put into words for the last six years of my life. Every day I am ecstatic to be a member of that elitist group, the Survivors Club, for there is no stronger group of people alive.

I, too, was past 50 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer with my annual mammogram. My mammogram the previous year had been normal. But a lot can happen in a year & if anyone would like to argue that point, I am up for the argument & the challenge. Not only can a lot happen, an entire life (lives) can change.

Right now I have three very pressing things that I need to be doing. I’m putting them off because yet another of those Mammography Task Force Recommendations has made it to the forefront of the nightly news, is again generating talk show debates & I feel a very personal need to address that. I’m taking this time because I want you to hear it from ME, the truth, … from a survivor … someone whose life was saved after the age of 50 by an ANNUAL mammogram.

I have the poop, the skinny, the raw truth that the men & women (could there possibly have BEEN women?) on the most recent task force apparently have never come face-to-face with. Apparently none of them have had a personal acquaintance with breast cancer or watched a loved one take that uncertain journey through treatment. Had they, I believe their recommendations would have been different … or different depending on who paid the task force (entirely my personal opinion, of course, & pointing fingers is not the reason for this blog entry).

The latest Task Force – the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends, in case you have missed this in the news, that the decision for mammography screening on women prior to 50 years old should be an individual one. Women ages 50 to 74 should have mammograms every other year (biennially).  Data on the benefits & harms of mammography on women over 75 years old is still inconclusive & they recommend AGAINST teaching breast self-exams. WOW! They did point out, however, that family history & other risk factors should be considered when deciding when to begin mammography screening. I guess that’s something.

There are many truths but I will start with truths about women in my age group … those women over 50. We are productive people with unfinished careers, second careers to be embarked upon; families that still need us, retirement to look forward to. We are powerhouses of ideas, experience, productivity & worth that embodies so much that is positive. That does not suddenly stop because one reaches the age of 50. We deserve all the technology available to help us achieve the longevity we need to reach our goals & continue to be the productive people we are.

As with a similar Task Force in 2009 that mostly came to the same conclusions & shared their recommendations with the public, this most recent task force concluded that women age 50 to 74 need only get a mammogram every other year. Yet I am sitting at this desk a prime example that annual mammograms DO save lives. Because more women have taken responsibility for their health care & are getting annual mammograms … key word ANNUAL …. breast cancer is no longer a death sentence.

The thing I find so disturbing about releasing these task force findings is that there are women who are already frightened of breast cancer & the associated mammograms. These are the women who will cling to the suggestions of such task forces out of fear & by the time they finally go for a mammogram, it is often too late. My heart grieves for the wonderful women we have lost & WILL lose because of these task force suggestions.

The most recent statistics have proven that annual mammograms save lives so I am at a loss to understand the necessity of beating this dead horse to a bloody pulp time & time again.

In 2007 I had a normal mammogram. In 2008, almost to the day of my mammogram the year before, I presented with breast cancer. Had that lesion gone undetected for another year while awaiting my next mammogram that would have taken place in 2009 according to the task force recommendations, my chances of survival would have decreased exponentially.

In light of the statistics, I am at a loss to understand the recommendations by the recent task force on this subject. Before they beat that horse to death again, they surely must have confiscated & made personal use of his blinders.

While more breast cancer cases have been detected, the death rate associated with breast cancer has impressively decreased … due to early detection … & early detection is directly related to mammography.

Findings from both task forces site the emotional trauma women of every age experience from “false positive” mammography results. Please ……. women give birth to babies, are heads of households, head corporations & run countries. You cannot convince me that women can’t handle a false positive mammogram report that leads to a follow-up mammogram or ultrasound that gives the woman, in most cases, a definite negative result. It’s still a win-win no matter how you slice it (or squeeze it). If you have a false positive, you are retested & have very good results. If your false positive is actually “positive,” then your survival expectancy has increased due to early detection. It’s a no-brainer. Believe me; I’d rather deal with the anguish of a false positive report for a small amount of time than a surprise diagnosis of breast cancer gone wild.

And then there’s the claim that mammography is painful. Depending on your tolerance of pain, mammography is on the lower “smiley face scale” where the little round head has hardly a grimace. A little discomfort for a very few moments once a year is worth the peace of mind you get with a normal mammogram. And once again, oh, please ……… women give birth to babies, many live with abusive spouses, they are heads of countries … we can tolerate, once a year,  a few minutes of discomfort that generates hardly a grimace on face #1 on the pain scale.

Even though the recommendation is that non-high risk women begin getting mammograms at age 50, I still believe that ALL women should get their first screening mammogram at age 40 … earlier if there is a strong family history. That’s STILL the recommendation of the American Cancer Society, doctors & breast specialists everywhere. More & more women are being diagnosed at an earlier age. I strongly believe that women should make informed determinations about when to get their first mammogram based on family history, genetic testing & being proactive about personal health care but age 40 should be when a woman begins her mammography history.

Bottom line … PLEASE continue to get annual mammograms. Do self-exams. Do NOT allow a task force to dictate your life expectancy. Breast cancer is one of those cancers that we can beat … we only have to be willing to be firm in our determination to be THE most active participant in our own health care.

Now … just ONE MORE THING. A friend of mine went to her GYN doctor for her annual check-up & Pap Smear shortly after having turned 65. While mostly naked & having “assumed the position” in the stirrups her doctor informed her that Medicare, of which she had recently become a participant, will not pay for Pap Smears annually in women over 65 but WILL pay for the test every other year. My friend was livid & told her doctor to do it anyway & SHE would pay for it.

The doctor told her “statistics” show that women over 65 are less likely to get cervical cancer. Less likely is key here … if women over 65 can still get cervical cancer, they should still be tested for it without having to pay for it out of their own pocket.

Another reason for not doing a Pap Smear, the doctor pointed out, is that women over 65 are less sexually active. OH, PLEASE (again)…….. has anyone taken a good look at 65 year old women lately??????

If even one life is saved because someone reads this blog entry then I feel blessed …and I do thank you for reading this.

 

mammogram 2

 

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6 Responses to “Breast Task Force … (Not Again!!!)”

  1. pam giovanelli April 25, 2015 at 3:01 am #

    i agree with you linda; mammograms should be a yearly thing…my manager (who will be 51 in may) has had false positives and has issues with cysts…she does angst a bit over the results but then goes again and all is well….she doesn’t need to wait 2 years.

    and the same with pap tests….tho i don’t look forward to my yearly reminder of how it feels to be a hand puppet (because i swear my mouth moves when his hand does), it’s absolutely imperative that any woman of any age should have preventive exams covered by insurance, be it employer provided or medicaid/medicare, whatever.

    yes, mammograms are kinda painful….i am thankful for once that i am small breasted because it is less painful; i didn’t know what cleavage was until i became pregnant, then breastfed until demand began exceeding supply. i was like ‘oh my word, i have CLEAVAGE!’ didn’t last long tho..sigh…..LOL..should have taken a picture.

    to have such a recommendation be supported is absurd. it’s tantamount to deciding that a woman’s life and health are no longer worth the cost and effort. we women have struggled throughout the ages for the right to vote, the right to become employed in what were “a man’s field” such as mathematics, engineering and other science-oriented endeavors.we women have struggled to be taken seriously in our professional lives, and to have the choice to live independently if a woman so chooses to do so…we are no longer bound by societal expectations – we have broken many glass ceilings and more are coming down.

    so i say to ALL women – have your yearly exams….and if your dr suggests you don’t need one – tell him what i told my ob/gyn who constantly reminded me when i went for my checkups while i was pregnant…every time it was something to the effect of “you continue to nourish yourself”…i finally looked at him one day and said, i’ll eat what i want – shut the HELL UP….

    Like

    • heimdalco April 25, 2015 at 3:09 am #

      What a FANTASTIC reply, Pam. Thank you! At one point you made me laugh out loud for real. Thank you for your support.

      I love your HAND PUPPET remarks. You should be doing a blog of your own.

      Like

  2. Willy (the husband) April 26, 2015 at 1:39 am #

    As usual, you told it like it should be and who are these people on the task force anyway? I’ll bet they never had breast cancer and was thankful for the checkup that gives them more life.
    Thanks to Pam I now have a better understanding of pap tests.
    In both cases I would listen to these women rather than a panel of people who have “STUDIED” the areas.

    Like

    • heimdalco April 26, 2015 at 2:02 am #

      Thank you, Willy, for your support & for sitting in my office & letting me bounce these ideas for serious blog entries off you. Even though we both end up fighting Max for the chair, it’s good to have you in the office with us being my sounding board.

      Like

  3. Leslie Miller April 27, 2015 at 2:20 am #

    Very good information Linda, and I agree with Willy, who are these people on the task force? I enjoyed the read, as always..even though this is a very serious matter, you always seem to bring some humor on board,,love the cartoon at the end.. Love u

    Like

    • heimdalco April 27, 2015 at 5:37 am #

      Thank you so much, Leslie. I just had to respond to the latest task force recommendations. I don’t know why they keep doing those when there’s proof that mammography saves lives. Sigh … anyway, that’s the beauty of doing a blog. I can say what I’m really thinking without being edited & in this case it was a blessing.

      Love you, too, & was so glad to have you guys at the party even though I didn’t get to really talk to you.

      Like

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