On Tuesday, April 29, I had my first post-cancer mammogram. I didn't think I'd be too worried about it but as the day grew closer I had this nagging thought of, "What if they miss the cancer again?" My oncologist had assured me back during treatment that they would look at the post-cancer mammograms very closely. The mammogram was initially scheduled for October 2014 but I begged the GPO to not wait that long. That would be a year since my MRI in October 2013 and it just seemed too long given my history. A compromise was reached in that I could have the mammogram in April 2014, if I then agreed to wait and have the next one in 2015. I know that even within our province there seems to be different protocols for post-cancer screening; who gets what when and how often. So I agreed to wait a year for the next one (April 2015), having learnt that a private clinic in my city does breast ultrasounds (necessary for women with dense breasts) for $500 a breast and that with a referral from my GP I could cover myself this October! Hey at last I get a deal and break on something! So off to the mammogram I went with my friend P.
The sign on the door said "digital mammography". I asked the young technician if she knew if the location/centre where I had my first three mammograms had a digital machine, she assured me they did. I was curious due to my research and this blog post by the head of screening mammography. In this post the doctor explains that over 65% of the 37 fixed screening centres in BC are digital. From my reading, digital machines provide better images and if you have dense breasts you REALLY need a digital screening and then more tests. This doctor was the Cancer Agency's guest blogger for March. Click here to read the other posts. (BTW: at 65% that means 24/37 fixed centres are digital). Hmmm, instead of that elusive cure I mentioned in my initial post, lets get these machines updated.
Continuing on, the very friendly technician tells me she will have to do several pictures from each angle as the machine she was using had smaller plates, or something like this. I told her that was fine, as I thought to myself do as many as you need to get an accurate picture. I have already had so much radiation from my radiation therapy, scans and different tests, I really don't think a little bit more will hurt!
She then asks me if the location I went to last year (different from the previous years) did both breasts. I was a bit puzzled and replied yes they did both and then they called me back for further mammograms (diagnostic) to the right breast. She says she can only see the ones of the right breast and will call for the other ones. I guess for the radiologist to be able to examine and review Tuesday's mammogram of the left breast, he or she needs at least one old one for comparison.
A mistake I keep making in my battle with cancer is in comparing the education and medical systems. (I know both systems are overburdened and underfunded and yet both working very hard to do their best.) I wrote in an earlier post about how I was never "red flagged" by screening mammography and how I wish I had been. I don't know how many children I have "red flagged" in my career but I do it with the belief that catching a problem early is better! OK, put the red flag issue aside as there is nothing to be done about it now and no use crying over spilled milk and what didn't happen! Back to the fact the technician could only find one mammogram and my latest comparison. When a child has a problem (academically, behaviourally, socially or emotionally), before taking the child to school-based team (a meeting with relevant school staff where the child is discussed) one of the things teachers do is to review the child's file to see if this problem is new or on-going. Key word, review.
In an on-going attempt to educate others here is a link to the Fact Sheet on mammograms from the National Cancer Institute website. They also have information on the different types of breast screening.