"Mad" in both senses of the word—crazy happy for mammograms because ten weeks after mine in January 2009, a stage 1 tumor was taken out of my body; and my life began anew as a "survivor."
And angry mad about mammograms because ironically, on the first anniversary of my mammogram, in November 2009, there was big news—a recommendation to change the mammogram guidelines. The study reported that women under 50 benefit from them, but their limitations (overdiagnosis and unnecessary biopsies) outweigh those benefits for those not at high risk.
I was in a tizzy, along with many other under-50 survivors, and joined those who started a petition on breastcancer.org. I had not yet been vocal about my experience, but that day I felt compelled to hang out the banner I posted on Facebook.
A mammogram had saved me from chemo, and had possibly saved my life. There is absolutely no question that mammograms save many lives.
Back to November 2008, sitting in the hallway of the breast imaging facility, next to an elderly woman, we were both still wearing our gowns. Funny how certain memories remain ingrained. Another irony—the radiologist came out and told her she could get dressed and leave while he took me to another room.
Calcifications are calcium deposits that show up as white spots on a mammogram. The way they were grouped caused the radiologist to label them as "suspicious". But he said three out of four times they were harmless.
I was given a piece of paper with breast surgeons names on it. I didn't recognize any of them, there had been no reason to go to one before. I hadn't been considered high risk. My family history wasn't heavy with breast cancer—I later learned that only a small percentage (10-15%) of breast cancers are hereditary. I had my first child at 27 and had nursed three children for four years (this lowers your risk). The thing is you don't always know you're high risk until you get the first biopsy results.
Helene is a 44-year-old breast cancer survivor, mother of three, and resident of White Plains. She works as a freelance editor of legal study guides.