Friday, February 25, 2022

Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring - The Mammogram!

The winner of THE LESSONS WE LEARN by Liz Milliron is C.D. Moulton, and the winners of BATTER OFF DEAD by Maddie Day are Pat D. and Alicia. Contact me at Julia Spencer Fleming (all one word) at Google mail, and I'll hook you up!

 

 

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Yes, today's title refers to the Bananaphone song, which was a longtime favorite on my mother, who liked to hold a banana against her ear and say, "I can't hear you, I've got a banana in my ear." Good times. We always used to sing the song - substituting "the mammogram" for the edible handset - when one or the other of us was talking about, well, mammograms.

 

 

No, this isn't Breast Cancer Awareness month (October, if you don't remember football players wearing pink stuff,) and guys, this post is for you, too. You can remind the women in your life to schedule their appointments, and you can learn how to do a simple breast examination - yes, you! It's fun and helpful; just about a year ago, my daughter's boyfriend noticed she had something that didn't feel quite right in her embonpoint, and she had it checked out. Thankfully, it was just a harmless cyst... but what if it hadn't been? He could have saved her life.

 

 

 

 

 

Here's the thing - caught early, when tumors are still localized, breast cancer has a 99% five-year survival rate. I'm pretty sure those are better odds than my survival rate if I keep living through Maine winters. (Someday I'm going to totter down the ice-covered driveway and whoops! They won't find my body until spring.) Forty-five years ago, that survival rate was only 74%. Thousands of women are living as breast cancer survivors instead of dying as breast cancer victims because of early screening. 

 

And mammograms are available to everyone. The ACA mandates that all insurance plans include a free screening mammogram every one or two years for women over the age of 40. Which, let's be honest, is probably most of the readership of this blog. If you're low income or uninsured, yep, there are plans and places for you to get checked out as well. I'm not yet eligible for that sweet, sweet socialized medicine ( I wish!) but both Medicaid and Medicare have extremely generous coverage.

 

 

Now, I realize a mammogram isn't the most fun thing to do on your average day. Nobody calls up their girlfriends to say, "Hey, gal, lets go grab a mammogram and lunch!" And there are people who just don't want to know, in the same way little kids hide under the blankets with the idea that if they can't see the scary thing under the bed, it can't see them

 

But as someone who sat with a loved one through two rounds of cancer treatment, I can promise you that nothing - not the discomfort, not the fear of "finding out," not the weirdness of having a nice lady named Cheryl maneuver your boobs around while talking about her childcare difficulties - is as uncomfortable, scary and weird as surgery and chemo/radiation/immuno therapy. And if you do have a positive test? If there's a problem? The sooner you get to that alarming and strange medical treatment, the more likely you are to be one of that awesome 99% survival statistic. 

So, dear readers, check your calendar, check in with your doctor, and if you're overdue for a mammogram, make that appointment today. Be sure to remember to sing the Mammogram song - Cheryl will definitely appreciate it.
 

115 comments:

  1. And now I am destined to think of that tune whenever “mammogram” comes up in conversation! It’s an important reminder, but that song is just too funny . . . .

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    1. I'm glad to have passed my family tradition on to you, Joan!

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  2. JULIA: Thanks for the reminder, and yes it's important to get tested.

    Unfortunately, Ontario halted many non-urgent medical procedures in 2021 when past COVID waves were overwhelming our hospital system. Before the pandemic, I would have had a 2-month wait to get my mammogram done. Ottawa's waitlist would be shorter than if I still lived in Toronto but it will likely take several months or longer to get an appointment. And I am grateful that I got my cataract surgery done (with a 10-week delay between the two procedures) in 2021. The backlog for cataract surgery is over 300,000 cases in Ontario now.

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    1. Your PSA made me book my appointment, It's in early JULY.

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    2. Grace, yeah, there's a huge backlog for a lot of specialist appointment here. My mammogram appointment booked quickly, possibly because there are three radiology/visioning centers right around here. But the dermatologist is booking four months out, unless it's an emergency. Glad you made your appointment!

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    3. JULIA: Yeah, I am glad it's booked. The Ontario Breast Screening Program only starts at age 50 so I have only had two mammograms. And it was more of a "squishing" than "smashing" experience for me.

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  3. Great PSA, Julia. I had my smashing event in October and it was blessedly clear.

    And thanks for the earworm - I don't think I'd heard that ditty before just now!

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    1. EDITH: "Smashing event" is a great visual description!

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    2. I love that Julia used a picture of a waffle iron. Pretty much sums it up!

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    3. Me too Edith because that's what it feels like.

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    4. I admit, I was laughing to myself while picking out the photos for this blog!

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    5. The photos are very entertaining!

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    6. Great photos, Julia, and the waffle iron is the best!

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  4. I went last week. Waiting for results. They said that it could be a couple of weeks before I heard because they are so busy.

    Julia, keep reminding everyone! Every body knows someone. Every body has a story.

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    1. Thanks, Judy. Getting my own routine screening yesterday (after almost THREE years instead of the usual two) made me think of this post.

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  5. It's in my head, it's in my head. Never heard that song before. Thanks for shouting out about the importance of a mammogram. I'm glad my doctors and imaging centers were diligent and my cancer was found early. Best news I got this week was I don't need to see the radiologist until next year.

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  6. Julia, now we know where your sense of humor comes from! Your mom sounds like a hoot.

    I had mine a few weeks ago, all clear. Judy, my results were in my MyChart before I even got back home! I wonder if it's because there's been such a backlog, and everyone is finally able to get them done at once.

    Way too many friends have had donut peach cancer (great visual, along with the waffle iron-=OUCH), and we all encourage one another to get checked.

    Knock wood, but none of the women in my family has had it. We lose uteri in our 30s and 40s, instead.

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    1. There wasn't a radiologist on site so it goes to their group to be read. They have those sophisticated new machines that do 3-D imaging for a more accurate reading. You are very fortunate to have received results so quickly. Waiting is worrying.

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    2. I think our group uses an off-site reader, since the results are digital. Several years ago test results were physically transported, either to Columbus (100 miles away), or further. At one point local hospital systems actually used overseas test result resources, which was insane.

      Good luck for negative tests, Judy!

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    3. It's amazing to me the advances digital technology has had on all sorts of radiology. I remember my doctor having to wait for those big stiff photos to be physically mailed to him before we could discuss what was going on!

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  7. Very important reminder, Julia.

    I participate in a screening program since 2003 with a mammogram every two years. It will end this year for me but I intend to continue to go by myself after that. I know how important it is as my sister is fighting breast cancer since November 2020 and she still has to go to radiotherapy before being declared in remission.

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    1. Wishing your sister all good health and clean results.

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    2. Cancer treatment during covid is so hard, Danielle. I hope your sister pulls through and gets a clean bill of health.

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    3. Hugs to you and your sister, Danielle.

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  8. Julia, yes, yes, yes! I am always baffled by women who moan and about going for a mammogram. Sure it's not fun, but...big deal. It saves lives. My experience with cancer has been unusual - we joke that I am on the frequent-flyer plan at Sloan Kettering - but here I am, now, playing with my grandkids and working on another book. Having lost a few beloved relatives in their 60's, I know every day how lucky I am. Get tested. No excuses.

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    1. Triss, I didn't know about your experience. Glad you are alive and kicking!

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    2. Me, too, Triss! Sloan Kettering is a real lifesaver - my uncle Ron went there for experimental melanoma treatment back in the early 90s (another fair skinned redhead, of which we have many) and although he lost two fingers, he lived into his eighties. The cancer never came back.

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    3. Not a secret but a longish story and I don't assume everyone is interested in my medical adventures. Yes, MSK is the best, with huge expertise and also very caring staff at all levels.I have been very lucky.

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  9. Also, ladies, check your menfolk because they can get breast cancer, too. As well as other male-type cancers. I knew a man who had testicular cancer and he was only 30 years old. Luckily, they got it in time.

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    1. Steve's cousin had testicular cancer, in his mid-20s. He's alive, thank God, and still not 30 years old.

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    2. I should have mentioned that, Judi! Yes, we had a male friend who got breast cancer, and he was so embarrassed, we didn't know exactly what was wrong for several years. It's just tissue, and we all have some.

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    3. I was thinking of men, Julia, when I started to read this post. Testicular cancer is discussed more openly now, but it seems male breast cancer is still pretty much taboo.

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  10. Because of insurance requirements, I go in December-- a couple of days later each year. I'd prefer a warmer time of year, but you don't argue with free.

    As the holder of a UW degree, loved those badgers!

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    1. Aren't they wonderful! When I went to the Bouchercon in Madison, I brought back a load of badger gear for my kids - the Sailor almost applied to UW just because of the cool merch!

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  11. PS Don't get me started on men and prostate cancer, which took my love, or colon cancer, which took his twin. The tests might be unpleasant, but cancer is far worse.

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    1. Look for that column after I have my next colonoscopy, Ellen, which... I think I may be overdue on.

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    2. I've been doing Cologuard. Easier-- if one is eligible.

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  12. I just had my annual screening in January with my usual provider. Unfortunately, I had a trainee technician and had such a painful experience. I'm not talking about the smashing being uncomfortable. This time the ledge that my breast rested on actually cut into my skin. I gave the provider feedback and responded in several ways: 1)the parent health provider responded and 2)the facility that did the procedure responded. My intention was to let them know they need to work with the trainee tech so this same thing doesn't happen to anyone else. First time ever that I've had anything like this occur and it definitely won't prevent me from future mammograms.

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    1. So sorry that you had a bad experience like that, Emily. You were right to follow up and let the providers know that your techie needs more training. People should not be injured going for routine screenings. This is a good reminder to everyone to speak up if something is not done properly. I'm thinking of times that I should have said something and didn't.

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    2. What a nightmare. And what Judy said. Suffering in silence doesn't help, so you probably prevented others from the same kind of trauma, Emily.

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    3. Agreed, Emily. New technicians have to learn, and the only way to do it is working with patients. I'm seeing this with Spencer's sweetheart Veronique, who is studying to be a respiratory therapist. They had her and her classmates in the hospital after one summer of classes! It's super important to get accurate feedback, both for other patient's sake, and for correcting the trainee, so they can hopefully improve.

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  13. Ironically, I was reading the Jungle Red blog in order to postpone calling for my mammogram appointment...

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    1. It's like those movies where the teens try to escape death, but it just keeps coming for them... :-D

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  14. Julia, I can't thank you enough! I got my reminder in December and had every intention of scheduling, but in the crush of the holidays it slipped through the cracks. I just scheduled it for next week, thanks to your timely reminder. (And I know better than that -- my sister had breast cancer at 34, so my mammograms have been annual since I was in my 30's. But the covid delay in 2020 got me off my regular schedule. At least this delay gets me away from the holidays going forward.)

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    1. Susan, I got mine yesterday, which was what kicked off writing about them, and I was way overdue because of the Covid delays as well. Happy to have checked it off my list, and happy to have prompted you to schedule yours!

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  15. Just do it, for yourself and your loved ones. Being compressed between two flat griddle plates is nothing compared to a colonoscopy prep.

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    1. Yep! Although... getting the big C-oscapy test is also important...

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  16. Fabulous public service, Julia! Believe me, the last thing you want to see is your doctor coming into the room carrying a pink bag filled with books. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt. Lobular Stage IIa - Class of 2008! As we say in Florida - "Save the Tatas!"

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    1. We did a walk once, and I got a "Save the Tatas" T-shirt, Kait!

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    2. There is a great roadhouse in Fort Myers named Redbones. They have a giant pink ape in their parking area with Save the Tatas printed on it in red.

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  17. I've been getting yearly mammograms since I was 35 because my mother died of breast cancer at 54. My "annual squishing" was done this fall - clear. That's the second year in a row I didn't have to come back for additional pictures (it's a yearly thing - the message that says, "This is probably nothing, but the images weren't clear and we want to take more."). I also watch for that "dented peach" look.

    I never did the genetic testing for the BRACA gene, but my sister did and she was negative. I figure that means my chances of being negative are pretty good (that and I'm almost ten years older than when my mother was first diagnosed).

    I'm apparently overdue for a colonoscopy. I thought they started at 50, but the age is 45 now. Between the yearly squishing and the yearly MRI, I just can't do one more. Ugh.

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    1. As everyone says, Liz, it's the prep and not the procedure that gets you. My solution (having seen Ross go through his colonoscopy at 50) was to buy a bunch of magazine I love reading but don't usually indulge in, and stacking them in the bathroom. It gave me something pleasant to do while, ah, otherwise engaged.

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    2. Two things: Liz, as another who started mammograms very young, hasn't it been wonderful to find how much easier they get as the breast tissue ages? I remember them being pretty ouchy at first, because the tissue was still so very dense. But as I have aged and gravity has taken its toll (ahem!) there is a lot less discomfort.

      As for the colonoscopy, my husband was due for his second this year and the doctor gave him the option of the cologuard test instead. Apparently it is only recommended for those who are at a very low risk of colon cancer. I don't even know exactly what he had to do, but it was a lot less bother than colonoscopy prep. So maybe that's something we can all hope for!

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    3. LIZ: I know it's another dreaded uncomfortable procedure, but if you're due for a colonoscopy, then please get it done.

      In Ontario, most of us don't get a colonoscopy. Instead, those 50 years and older of average risk get screened once every 2 years with the DIY fecal immunochemical test (FIT) at home. We only get a colonoscopy if the FIT test finds something suspiciouos.

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    4. I need to ask about the Cologuard thing. With my luck, they'll find some reason I can't use it.

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    5. Check with your insurance company before you do the Cologuard thing to be sure they will cover any follow up colonoscopy. A friend of mine used Cologuard and received a notice she needed a regular colonoscopy. She went, had it, and found out her insurance would not cover it because they covered the Cologuard. I know, makes no sense, but it's an insurance company.

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  18. I realized I completely forgot to mention why I was bringing this up - I had my biennial mammogram yesterday!

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  19. (Ontario has a mammogram screening program. The program sends you reminders that is time to schedule your next appointment at the local hospital for a scan.)

    It is the first April of the Covid pandemic and I’ve just received my mammogram reminder. Yeah, I’m not going anywhere so I will just put this on the pile of things to think about later.

    It is the second April of the covid pandemic, and I’ve just received my second mammogram reminder. Ok, fine. I will call and get my appointment.

    I call the number on the notice. Reach voicemail. “We will call you back when we can.” Ok, fine. I’ll wait.

    Two days later, I conclude that I don’t really need the provincial people as I can call local non-hospital imaging facilities and get an appointment. A check of on-line services shows me that the big medical building ½ km from home has an imaging company and they do mammograms. I give them a call and reach voicemail. “Tell us what you need, and we will call you back later.” Ok, fine. More waiting.

    They call me back later that day to say that they don’t do mammograms at that site after all. I need to call one of their other locations. Ok, fine. Really?

    The province’s clearinghouse people call me back that day too. They tell me that since I live where I do and the province is short staffed that she’d really like me to make this appointment myself. I can use the non-hospital services and that I should call and schedule through them. Ok, fine. Thanks.

    Using the on-line portal, I make an appointment at the nearest branch of the other imaging facility for two weeks hence and receive a confirmation. I show up, answer the barrage of covid questions including “are you vaccinated? Yes, when? You need to be 3 weeks beyond your last vaccination.” Ok, fine. I’m good but where was that bit of information listed?

    She can’t find the appointment on her computer calendar. I have a confirmation! Ah, but that is for the OTHER site. The confirmation says it is for this site. “I’m sorry," she says, "but the computer shows the appointment at our other location.” I had two options. Travel like a bat out of hell across town to the other site or remake the appointment. I chose the latter option and the soonest appointment was August. August was it.

    Ok, fine. Finally.

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    2. DEAUN: AARGH, your experience sounds like our Ontario health bureaucracy system at its worst. I got my mammogram screening reminder letter earlier this month. I knew there would be a huge backlog and everyone is calling in at once now.

      Julia's PSA pushed me to book mine today. I knew the Riverside Hospital clinic closed 4 years ago so I had to look up another one. Only a 5-minute phone call queue, and I'm booked for early JULY.
      So don't delay any more!

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    3. Oh, no, poor CD! I'm about to put this on the front page, but you'll all least have a book to read while waiting for your August appointment... you're the winner of Liz Milliron's THE LESSONS WE LEARN!

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    4. Oh wow! Thanks! I never win anything, except I can't say that anymore.

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    5. Grace: The bureaucracy is so unnecessary, but that's a political rant that I can't make here. Still, I'll take universal health care any day.

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    6. I feel your pain, I had the “your appointment is at the other facility” experience a few months ago. Couldn’t make it in time, they were able to reschedule that afternoon, but I missed that due to mistiming traffic. Finally got in in a January and all good.

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    7. DEAUN: Agreed. Although COVID has definitely highlighted the fragility of Ontario's critical care system, we are still very lucky in Canada to have universal health care. I also booked my colorectal FIT test kit with a 2-minute phone call to my famuly doctor at Bruyere Hospital. Easy peasy.

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  20. It only takes five minutes, really, and well, so worth it! But how about those tiny little lockers, at Mass General at least, where you’re supposed to store your clothing. There a big enough for… doll clothes. I always feel like Fibber McGee, trying to stash my stuff.

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    1. But you get those nice waffle weave robes to wear, so...
      Every time I have one of those at a hotel, I think, I need to buy one of these, and then I forget about it until the next hotel visit or mammogram.

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    2. Awww, we DON"T get any nice robes in Ontario. Just the typical blue hospital gown.

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    3. Yeah. We get a short version of a hospital johnny.

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    4. Waffle weave? I think ours are...flannel? Pink flannel. With belts that wrap..somehow.....
      Would we be more eager to go if they had, say Frette robes?

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  21. I had my mammogram in January close to my birthday. While the technician was moving my boobs around, she said, “You look good for your age,” which made me pause and laugh. I’m not sure what she was basing her opinion on given the circumstances. My face was covered by a mask, and my boobs were being smashed around in the machine. But you know what? I’ll take the compliment, despite how slightly weird.

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    1. And did she mean the inside, or the outside?

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  22. I once posted on Facebook: I survived another smash and grab, or should I say grab and smash. 😁

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    1. Grab, push, prod smash and... hold your breath, hold your breath hold your breath. :-)

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  23. I have avoided mammograms for years--no particular reason, but had decided this year to get back on schedule. So today was just the push I needed to get it scheduled. Fingers crossed for a mid-March or later appointment, though, I'm tired of ice-skating down the back roads.

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    1. I'm glad to hear it, Flora! And I know what you mean about the back roads; we're getting a whole lot of snow right now.

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  24. Applauding, Flora! Dontcha think if men had to have mammograms they'd have invented a less uncomfortable way to do 'em? Invariably I end up bruise line across the middle. But there are lots worse things...

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  25. I, too, had a male friend who had breast cancer. He was so embarrassed, just didn't want anyone to know it was breast cancer. I made him a cap for him when he lost his hair. ("HAD a friend" is because he dropped out my church world just as the pandemic started.)

    I have what is hoped to be my last dermatology appointment next month, fingers crossed. I was asked to return for a second screening when I had my first mammogram. Scared me because I wasn't told why, they just needed a second image. Turns out the difference in my missed sized breasts was more than they were to to seeing.

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    1. dean, I have a friend who doesn't have a "matched set." EVERY time she has to explain to the radiologist...

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  26. Thanks for the reminder, Julia. I've put my off for two years due to the pandemic. Time to get scheduled!

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  27. How have I lived this long and never heard the Bananaphone song? I've got a little list and you may have just been put on it, Julia!

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    1. Always glad to spread a little joy and happiness into the world, Pat!

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  28. What on earth does all that have to do with pancakes, waffles or breakfast in general?

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    1. Rick, if you are married, you should ask your wife! LOL

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    2. After you've gotten your mammogram, you deserve a delicious breakfast?

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  29. I have mine every year, without fail. This year I had an unusual experience: my scoliosis has gotten so bad that the curvature of my spine apparently made it difficult for the technician to get a good view of one of my breasts. She had to take an additional shot of it. It took her a few minutes of maneuvering my breast around in the plate before all the tissue showed up on her screen. Everything turned out fine, as it always does. Except that in moving around while standing at the Squishing Machine, my glasses came in contact with a sharp edge on the machine, and there’s now a scratch around an inch long across the mid portion of one lens. I’m due for an eye exam anyway, and I’m pretty sure I need a change in prescription.

    Colonoscopy isn’t due for another couple of years. I need them more often than the average person, but that’s okay. A colonoscopy saved my life a couple years ago. No cancer, but a very huge polyp on the verge of turning cancerous was discovered, and I ended up having surgery. I would happily have a colonoscopy every six months if necessary!

    DebRo

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    1. That's (literally!) the healthy attitude, DebRo!

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  30. Julia I laughed out loud at the photos you used! But it is no joke - Get those mammograms when you are due!

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  31. Interestingly I had one this week. When I mentioned to my granddaughter's teacher that I think the inventor of the automatic release on the machine should get an award, I got a blank look. I suddenly realized that younger woman have not experienced the fun of being trapped in the mammogram device while the technician walks around to the controls, takes the picture, and then walks back, and releases the pressure trays. It wasn't long, but any time reduction is a blessing.

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    1. By the way, my husband was wondering how they take the pictures of women with small breast. Any ideas? Not much to smush, as it were.

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    2. When I was a serious runner and lost most of my body fat, it was easier to get the girls flattened!

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    3. I'm pretty sure those radiology techs can find something to smoosh, regardless of size.

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    4. LIBBY: I have been a size A cup for decades. My mom was even smaller, size AA.
      So yes, there is less breast to smush/smash but the techs still take the mammogram in the same way.

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  32. This topic today is so important! It's been easy in these pandemic days to lose track of when we need certain check-ups, and we put lots of them off during the first year of the pandemic. I'm usually good about getting my mammogram, as my older sister died from what was originally a breast cancer diagnosis. Yes, she had things going on in her children's lives and put off getting checked when she first discovered something unusual. But, when I called to make my appointment in January (I had to get through Christmas, right?), I was told I hadn't had a mammogram for two years. Well, I figured it up, and it was more like eighteen months, but it was still longer than it should have been. I got in quickly to have my mammogram, and while there is still a cyst they're watching, my report was good. I really want my daughter, who is 38, to get a mammogram, but she says that she doesn't need on yet. My sister was either 39 or 40 when she was diagnosed. So, please, ladies here, do get your yearly mammogram.

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    1. Right, Kathy. And the problem is that by the time it is large enough to feel with a manual exam or self exam, it is more than large enough to have spread. Make those appointments!

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  33. Excellent reminder, Julia--thank you. I'm on schedule for my annual check, but you made me go into my files to be sure, which is good. I have to compliment you on the orange-juice squeezer and waffle iron photos. Ay-yai-yai. Those are perfect...metaphors? I can almost feel that pressure.

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