Over the past couple of weeks a few women have said something to me about going ahead and scheduling their mammogram because of me. They are “thanking me” for prompting them to do this thing they knew they needed to do, but had not yet done. I’m praying that if there is any hesitation in you, that what I am about to share will also move you to action.
In 2005 I had a mammogram. It came back with some suspicious looking areas. I had to return for additional scans. Fortunately, the surgeon felt that my suspicious areas were simply calcifications and nothing to worry about. I left his office greatly relieved and with his direction ringing in my ears, “Be sure to get your annual exam.”
Over the next four years I scheduled a mammogram on three separate occasions and cancelled every single time. I even made it to my regular doctor for an annual check up and my ob/gyn for one annual appointment. Everything looked great. All my blood work was lovely. "Don’t forget to get your mammogram…"
Most women in their mid years are dealing with a lot of life transitions. Jobs, homes, parents, kids – it’s just part of the season we must learn to cope with. But one of the side effects of the season for me is that I failed to prioritize some basic maintenance in my life. I knew I needed to stop and get a mammogram. but I reasoned away my appointments. Yes, I was busy, but there were some other things going on inside my head that deceived me into behaving in an apathetic way.
Here’s a few of the major ones…
- I was afraid. I knew the face of breast cancer pretty well and frankly, I didn't want to deal with it. What I have found is that breast cancer knew me before I knew it. No amount of my fear kept it away. As a matter of fact, if I had faced my fear and it had been a bad report – that report would have been much less devastating than the one I finally got.
- Sickness is weakness. All my life I’ve had a bad attitude about illness. I’m not very compassionate and I pretty much want you and me to be well. If I feel bad, I rest as little as possible and as soon as I can, I’m up and going. Anything more than that and in my mind I'm giving into weakness. Oh my! I have been so arrogant. My heart was both ignorant and judgmental. No exertion of my will, lack of compassion, or inner strength kept illness away.
- I am well. I thought I was well because I had been well. I’ve been blessed with a lifetime of health. I don’t expect a bad report and I don’t look for symptoms in every little situation. During the first week of my diagnosis as I was answering health history quizzes – one after another – I’d check all the other boxes with a no and say to the technician, I am well. There’s a fine line between believing for divine health and walking in ignorance. I was ignorant.
- I can’t deal with it right now. For about a year before my diagnosis, I’ve been having some strange physical issues. I’ve had a lot of trouble sleeping. I had a strange rash that no doctor could figure out! I would wake up in the middle of the night with intense itching. I remember saying to my sister in law not too long before all this started, “After xyz, I’m going to have to stop and check this out. I can’t do it right now because I’m afraid it could lead to something extensive and I just can’t manage it.” I visited the doctor a few times. They’d test my blood, talk to me about managing stress, give me around of steroids and back I’d go. Even when in my gut I felt like something might be going on, I didn’t suspect breast cancer, but I suspected it might require more of me, at the very least tests and time, and I just didn’t feel I could stop.
- It’s too expensive and I don’t have a doctor. For years, Mark and I only had a major expense insurance policy that had huge deductible and big co-pay. We were in the insurance business for years and we know how important proper insurance can be and that you do not want to do anything that will make you uninsurable. I knew that any amount of diagnostic testing was going to be expensive and potentially change my insurability. (I was right about that!) In addition, we moved to a new city and I didn’t have a doctor. I kept putting it off until it was more financially feasible. I thought I was doing appropriate risk management.
I assure you that in the moment each of those “excuses” seemed legitimate. But as I look at them now, they seem ridiculous. By delaying attending to basic preventative procedures, I have allowed the disease to be much more advanced. As a consequence, every impact in my life is multiplied.
What I was afraid of, I am now forced to face and fight. It could have been a little fight, but now it’s a big one. I find that the sickness I despised, I must now learn to operate with on a daily basis. There is no putting off until after this or that to receive treatment or visit the doctor. My calendar is now based around treatment. The few minutes it would have costs me for the mammogram have become months of doctor visits, scans, procedures, treatments and tests. Cancer came into my "right now" and demanded my attention. Illness is expensive – there’s no doubt about and no way around it. However, I have added substantially to the length and breadth of the treatment I will require. I have made the financial impact more devastating for our family, not less.
Now finally – here’s the real costs! It’s the costs to my husband, my children, my family, my co-workers and my friends. I thought I was prioritizing all those people when I was taking care of everybody and everything except for me. But the truth is, my lack of self care has costs them the most. They will never be the same. Illness is not something you experience in isolation. It reverberates through every relationship and responsibility and has an impact on every other person in your life. Of all the consequences of my disobedience, this makes me most sad.
Obviously, I failed to do what I knew to do – and the consequences are pretty substantial. I know this sounds heavy – but I believe there’s grace for me. I trust Him in this season, but my trust is now mixed with a new level of obedience. God is redeeming my mistakes and turning them into something wonderful. I’d be honored if one of the wonderful things came in the package of a comment from you that said “thanks for reminding me to take care of myself.”
Please stop and make that appointment. Then go one step further and show up! Even if the results are less than what you hope they will be – it will be better for you and the ones you love than waiting until your body demands your attention. You are the only you your loved ones have and nobody can take your place or carry your load.
Please take care of yourself first! Make that appointment! Then show up!