Voices of the Clarion: A time for reflection

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is important to everyone

Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2005

One of the things I like most about the future is the unknown. Each day is better than a gift — it's a surprise gift. Something unexpected. I look at life this way to balance the monotony of dirty laundry.

This philosophy can have its drawbacks, as there are many types of gifts: The white elephant gift, the gag gift or worse, you can receive the "booby" prize one day and discover a lump in your breast like I did in mid-September. While most of the above you can regift to others (or easier yet, find a new friend) the latter I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy (and I have many).

There is nothing I can liken to the instant and tangible fear that goes through one's mind when the thought of cancer enters your life. I can only describe it as entering the Twilight Zone. You go to work, you cook dinner and all the while, the lump feels as if it has taken on a life of its own.

At that point, freaking out seemed like a reasonable thing to do. Then in a moment of sheer stupidity (and denial) I decided to ignore it. After all, there is no cancer in my family background and other than being overweight, I don't smoke or drink (not even caffeine), and I rarely eat red meat.

Yet there "it" was, taunting me as if it had moved from my breast into my head. It began to annoy and scare the pajeezes out of me. I couldn't even make a shopping list without it there — milk, check; bread, check; lump in my breast, check.

So I turned to the Internet. There are many advantages to the Net, but let me caution you — when you already think there is a possibility of cancer, never accept what you find without going to your doctor for verification.

After discovering that I am not as enlightened as I thought I was (no family history equals no fear) I spent many sleepless nights crying in my closet alone while waiting for my doctor's appointment and the dreaded mammogram.

At this point, perspective began to return to me and the humor and irony of it all kicked in.

First of all, unless I am overweight, I am flat-chested. Yet suddenly I am faced with the possibly of losing what I have just gotten use to having. Second, I was going to have to have my "new"-found breasts squashed. And third, why the heck did they name it a mammogram? Are two breasts going to come knocking (pardon the pun) on my door singing, "Hello, is Nancianna here? She has cancer."

I only got more hysterical when, taking advice from the Net, I did a complete breast self-exam. After not doing it regularly, everything felt like a lump. A bit of advice here, ladies and gentlemen: (Yes, men too. Not only can you encourage the females in your life to be on guard against it, but you can get breast cancer too.) Self-breast exams are a way to get to know your breasts, and unless you do one on a regular basis, you will not know what is normal.

So the doc sends me on to the mammogram. Bit of advice number two: Do not ask other women what it was like to get one! Next to wearing the badge of honor of giving birth, women seem to take perverse pleasure in their mammogram stories.

"Well, let me tell you if men had to have their breasts OBLITERATED by a mammogram they would not have such a booby fixation."

"No, it wasn't too bad. The bruising went away several days later. You know, they don't call it getting squashed for nothing."

"Oh, don't worry about it Nan. On a scale of one to 10, the pain was about an eight. I cried, but only a little."

With all this and "it" floating around in my brain, I walked in to get scanned.

After explaining that I would go in, undress to the waist, flop my breast on a rather cold top and hug a machine that looks (I swear this is true) like an oversized Kitchen Aid mixer, she asks if I want to see the privacy policy.

Privacy policy? I am going to have to let someone other than my husband touch my breasts and take pictures of them. Then several other people will view the photos. What could be less private? Were they going to promise they would not show up on the Net?

Mugs, the technician (yes, she is aware of the rhyming potential there) sat me down and said, "This has to be done. It will be no big deal because you will tell me if you are uncomfortable and I will stop the pressure. If you have breasts, you can get cancer. Period. Eating right is good for your body but does not guarantee anything EXCEPT that you will be in good enough health to fight off cancer if you get it."

Reality is your friend and knowledge is power. I don't care how simple it sounds, it's true. I was no longer scared.

She was right, it didn't feel any worse than if my husband had "copped a feel" on the way out the door. I left knowing that whatever the outcome, I was not going to let other women think breast cancer just runs in families or let them go through the process alone. If you need a hand to get you through the mammogram door, call me.

Breast cancer awareness is more than knowing someone who has had it, buying stamps to fund research for it, wearing pink wrist bands or placing magnets on your car. It is about knowing how it can affect you or someone close to you and doing something about it.

I had to leave the state for a family emergency so it was fitting to receive the results upon my return in October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"We are pleased to inform you that the test results are negative."

I still look forward to the unknown that each new day will bring me, but now I have a little more comfort in knowing that I have the edge in lessening the chances it will be unpleasant.

Nancianna Misner is the newsroom assistant for the Clarion.

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