"Mad" About Mammograms

Read about how a young wife and mother learned of a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 41.

"Mad" in both senses of the word—crazy happy for mammograms because ten weeks after mine in January 2009, a stage 1 tumor was taken out of my body; and my life began anew as a "survivor." 

And angry mad about mammograms because ironically, on the first anniversary of my mammogram, in November 2009, there was big news—a recommendation to change the mammogram guidelines. The study reported that women under 50 benefit from them, but their limitations (overdiagnosis and unnecessary biopsies) outweigh those benefits for those not at high risk. 

I was in a tizzy, along with many other under-50 survivors, and joined those who started a petition on breastcancer.org. I had not yet been vocal about my experience, but that day I felt compelled to hang out the banner I posted on Facebook.

A mammogram had saved me from chemo, and had possibly saved my life. There is absolutely no question that mammograms save many lives.

Back to November 2008, sitting in the hallway of the breast imaging facility, next to an elderly woman, we were both still wearing our gowns. Funny how certain memories remain ingrained. Another irony—the radiologist came out and told her she could get dressed and leave while he took me to another room.  

Calcifications are calcium deposits that show up as white spots on a mammogram.  The way they were grouped caused the radiologist to label them as "suspicious".  But he said three out of four times they were harmless. 

I was given a piece of paper with breast surgeons names on it. I didn't recognize any of them, there had been no reason to go to one before. I hadn't been considered high risk. My family history wasn't heavy with breast cancer—I later learned that only a small percentage (10-15%) of breast cancers are hereditary. I had my first child at 27 and had nursed three children for four years (this lowers your risk). The thing is you don't always know you're high risk until you get the first biopsy results.    

Helene is a 44-year-old breast cancer survivor, mother of three, and resident of White Plains.  She works as a freelance editor of legal study guides.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Hadara Sacher-Zemel October 31, 2011 at 09:27 PM
If that's the case, Adam, then I ask you again, why are you trying to turn one woman's story into an academic discussion?
Hadara Sacher-Zemel October 31, 2011 at 09:31 PM
Helene, I have so much respect for you. Your eloquent blogs and the amount of research you have done for yourself only serve this community, allowing us to connect with how our friends, moms, and sisters FEEL and how to approach them and their illness. The world needs more women like you, who can really get to the nitty-gritty of how breast cancer impacts their family and speak loudly about it so that the rest of us might just learn something.
Bongaloo October 31, 2011 at 09:36 PM
In response to Hadara....I am thrilled that Helene had a successful outcome. But she made the comments: "A mammogram had saved me from chemo, and had possibly saved my life. There is absolutely no question that mammograms save many lives." in her original post. It is certainly valuable if the mammo saved her from chemo. But did it save her life? How could I possibly know if it did or did not save HER life? But her comment it absolutely saves many lives is questioned. I do not claim to know the answer. But it isn't an absolute anything. Shirley said test everyone no matter the cost. That is her opinion. There are differences of opinion. I am offering data and studies and alternate opinions. Saying that everyone has to have a mammogram because countless lives are saved by them is simply not an educated opinion. It is an emotional reflex to a potentially bad disease. People need to review the data, review the recommendations, and determine their own conclusion. Nowhere in any of my posts did I recommend someone NOT get a mammogram.
Helene Schonbrun January 08, 2013 at 01:59 PM
Naomi, I've been writing about the breast cancer storyline on the tv series "Parenthood". So far 7 entries. If you would like to read them, click n my name at the top of the blog.
Helene Schonbrun January 08, 2013 at 02:01 PM
Hi Shirley, I'be been blogging about the tv series "Parenthood"'s breast cancer storyline. If you're interested in reading the 7 entries, click on my name at the top of the blog.


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