I had cancer. I turned 40 and went for a baseline mammogram. I felt fine, had no suspect lumps, bumps or pain. It should have been no big deal – get the screening, come back the next year to have something to compare to.
Instead, it was breast cancer.
Preventative screenings are the best way to assure that you stay healthy. If you go for regular check-ups, your doctors can use the delta of time between one screening and the next to assess whatever might be going on: what is there now that they didn’t see before, how acute or aggressive the changes are to your body.
However, during the past 6 months, preventative screenings have dropped dramatically. Mammograms fell 77% at the height of the pandemic; colonoscopies declined by 88% by mid-April and are still down more than 33%; and critical vaccinations for children declined by as much as 75%*. The hope was that each of those preventative protocols would be rescheduled, but the reality is not playing out.
We are all at full capacity with current challenges. Doctors are not reporting increased demand to reschedule what has been missed. And that makes sense: finding time (and energy) right now is hard. Will we wait until next year? Put it off until we notice an issue? How will the lack of screening impact the stage at which issues – particularly breast cancer – are detected, diagnosed and treated. Will a 2-year gap in mammograms show in the instances, the stage and the treatment options for women?
Breast cancer has been my ‘soapbox’ since I was diagnosed 14 years ago. For many of you, my annual reminders to mam-your-grams have been met with thank you notes for the reminder, sharing outcomes, fears and treatment. I have been so honored to stand with you as you face this health challenge.
To those that are new to my message, you can visit past notes here. The take-away is always the same:
If you are a woman, conduct monthly self-exams, schedule and keep your screening appointments. Take Advil before and buy yourself a gift after. Encourage friends, mothers, sisters, co-workers to prioritize their self-care.
If you are a man, support the women in your life by encouraging them to keep screening appointments. Partners, mothers, sisters, friends – they need to hear from you that their health matters.
Whatever the news is, surround yourself with the support that you need. Information is power and laughter heals
So why the provocative title? I went for an annual well-woman exam last week and the directions from the nurse were different from my last preventative screening. "Clothes Off, Mask On." It made me laugh. Luckily, that was all that had changed.
To healthy ta-tas and preventative care.
* Missed Vaccines, Skipped Colonoscopies: Preventive Care Plummets, New York Times, Sept. 11, 2020.