Mammograms and Mothering

Article

Even though my children are grown up, I still worry about their health — especially when it comes to breast cancer.

cartoon drawing of blogger and breast cancer survivor, Bonnie Annis

Mothering is a challenge, especially when children are small. It takes a lot of time and energy to shield little ones from all the bumps and bruises. But when they grow up, the challenges change. The children still need protecting — especially regarding their health.

I have one son and three daughters. They’ve been a huge blessing in my life and have brought me much joy. Over the years, we’ve developed a closeness I cherish, and I love how they often come to me for advice. Daily, I enjoy receiving a call or text from several of them. It makes me feel good to know they appreciate my years of expertise, especially when it comes to important issues like health.

For the past few years, I’ve been encouraging my adult daughters to have a baseline mammogram. With my history of breast cancer, I wanted each of my three girls to take their breast health seriously. I tried not to nag but my persistent asking may have come across that way. I didn’t want to scare them into having the test but tried to make sure they understood they were at a higher risk since I’d been diagnosed.

My youngest daughter was the first to acquiesce. She’d experienced some breast tenderness and decided it might be time to get checked out. Though she was under the recommended age for a baseline mammogram, I was proud she’d decided to be proactive. After the test was set up, she asked if I’d go with her. I knew she was scared though she never said it. Of course, I agreed to accompany her. Thankfully, the test came back with no evidence of cancer. It did reveal she had very dense breasts, which was concerning. Mammograms can’t easily detect cancerous lumps through dense breasts and often 3D mammograms are used as a better diagnostic tool for those with this condition.

My middle daughter hasn’t decided whether she’ll get tested. I keep hoping she’ll make up her mind to do it sooner rather than later. She’s approaching 40, the recommended age for a woman to have a baseline mammogram.

My oldest daughter went for her first mammogram yesterday. She hadn’t been having any problems but had decided earlier this year to make her health a priority. I was so happy to hear she’d made an appointment to get tested. We talked on the phone, and I helped her know what to expect. That conversation seemed to put her mind at ease.

She had no idea the women’s center was going to use a 3D mammogram on her and called to tell me about it after the fact. I listened carefully as she shared how uncomfortable some parts of the test had been and how thankful she was that it was over. The results would be in the following day, she said.

All night long, I worried about my oldest girl. What would I do if the test revealed a place of concern? I played out various scenarios in my mind. I steeled myself for bad news but hoped for good.

Today, I received a text message, “Mom, can I call you in a few minutes?” My heart immediately sank. I assumed the worst. I replied with a quick, “Yes, I’m here” and waited. A few minutes later, the call came in.

Before she spoke a word, I took a deep breath. Then, I listened to the tone of her words when she said the doctor’s office had emailed at 7:30 a.m. I thought that odd and asked about it. All of a sudden, her voice perked up and she said, “Mom! The test was fine! There was no cancer!” I wanted to shout, “Hallelujah!”

Breathing a sigh of relief, I continued to listen as she told me her test revealed mostly fatty tissue in her breasts. She said the doctor had said that put her into a lower risk category for breast cancer and mentioned those with dense breasts are in a higher risk category. While I was glad to hear her news, I was even more concerned about my youngest daughter after hearing this information.

We made a deal to try our hardest to encourage my middle daughter to get tested within the next year. Sometimes, sisters have a way of speaking the truth to one another in a more subtle way than mothers can, and my girls are extremely close, often sharing things they don’t share with me.

I want to protect my girls as much as possible, so I’ve pushed for them to perform breast self-exams and have annual mammograms. And I’ve already started talking to them about making sure their daughters know about breast health, too.

My mother never talked to me about performing breast self-exams or even having a mammogram. If she had, perhaps I might have caught my cancer earlier. I guess times have changed a lot over the years and talking about breasts has become less taboo than it was when I was growing up. My hope is to have all the girls in our family for generations to come know all there is to know about the importance of taking care of their bodies. If we can pass down that legacy one generation at a time, then all I experienced on my cancer journey will not have been wasted.

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