By Patti Perkins Carpenter
"I HAD MY FIRST MAMMOGRAM WHEN I was 40 years old and then followed a routine of getting mammograms every two years until I hit age 48. I felt very healthy, hadn't discovered any lumps through self-examinations, and was not worried about cancer since there was no history of any type of cancer in my family for at least three generations.
"So I waited three years before scheduling my next mammogram, and bingo, I had a cancerous tumor which had grown to over 2 centimeters in diameter, and cancerous cells were also detected in one of my lymph nodes.
"Early detection is such a key determinant in the prognosis for cancer survival, so I still lose sleep over not going in for a yearly mammogram that might have detected my tumor at an earlier stage. I was told by a couple of my doctors that because of the specific location of my tumor and the density of my breast tissue, the tumor would have been hard to detect through self-examination alone. Even after I knew the tumor's location, I couldn't feel it.
"My first e-mail that revealed my cancer diagnosis to friends, family, and all of my teaching colleagues in Modoc Joint Unified School District ended with me imploring all women reading the message to schedule a mammogram and all husbands, sons or brothers of women to encourage their wives, mothers or sisters to have a regular mammogram. I think the word got around quickly that if you didn't want to be hounded about having regular mammograms, stay away from Carpenter. But hearing from women that they had scheduled a long-overdue mammogram because of my sometimes assertive encouragement seemed to help empower me in my own personal fight against breast cancer.
"Some women need to get over the feeling that mammograms are inconvenient, uncomfortable and somewhat embarrassing. Your life or the life of those women you care for may depend on the early detection of breast cancer that a mammogram can provide."