The most powerful New Year’s Resolution you can make
January 3, 2018
Hearing the words “You have breast cancer” is like being hit by a truck: life as you know it goes flying.
Breast cancer is the number one disease for women – here, in Aotearoa, 8 women are diagnosed every day.
We are all at risk so it makes sense to do everything in our power to protect ourselves because life is uncontrollable. It’s like driving a car – you might never drink-and-drive and you might always give way when you’re supposed to, but you can’t stop someone else crashing into you.
That’s why we wear seat belts. This simple device:
- Is designed to minimise injury suffered in a crash
- Makes sure that as little contact is made between your car and you as possible
- Significantly reduces the risk of being catapulted through the windscreen
You wouldn’t risk going on the road without a seat belt so don’t risk going through life without regular mammograms.
Seem like a bit of a stretch?
Like seat belts, mammograms exist to give you the best chance of survival when something uncontrollable happens. A mammogram:
- Is designed to detect breast cancer in the early stages to minimise the damage the cancer can do to your body
- Makes sure that as little contact is made between the breast cancer and your body as possible
- Significantly reduces your risk of dying of breast cancer
Early detection is the best protection because once breast cancer it has spread beyond the breast, it’s incurable but if you find a lump, or notice a change, it can be treated.
Breastscreen Aotearoa offers free mammograms every two years to women aged between 45 and 69 with no symptoms (and the government is going to lift the upper age to 74). Although they can be a bit uncomfortable, mammograms are our best chance to protect ourselves from breast cancer, but 30% of eligible women aren’t having them.
If you’re among that 30%, it’s normal to be a bit anxious about your first mammogram – this is new and unknown territory after all! Here are a couple of handy tips to set your mind at ease:
- Mammograms shouldn’t be painful, but you’ll probably find your first one a bit uncomfortable. Sometimes it can be worse if you’re on your period – as a general rule, try to book your appointment 10 days after your period to minimise discomfort.
- Wear pants or a skirt (not a dress) so that you don’t have to take everything off and feel exposed.
- Leave your home or work early, so that you have more time than you need to make it to your appointment. The more relaxed you can be the better, so giving yourself plenty of time helps to avoid stressful rushing to find a park.
- You might like to ask your mammographer where the quick release button is. It’ll give you peace of mind to know that you have the control to end the mammogram if you want to, especially if you live in a city that’s prone to earthquakes.
- Take a friend or whanau along with you, for support.
- If you’re nervous, scared, or have questions, pop into a practice that has a mammogram machine and ask the staff to show you around and explain the procedure.
- Be prepared for a call back – since it’s your first mammogram, there’s no data to compare it to so a follow up appointment is often needed but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have breast cancer.
Still unsure about the whole thing? We asked women who have experienced breast cancer, and those who haven’t, for some words of encouragement, to help you feel better about having your first mammogram:
“If I hadn’t had my mammogram, the cancer would have spread in a bad way (at this stage the tumour was deep inside the breast tissue and couldn’t be felt…) I found another lump last week and had a mammogram and ultra-sound this morning. They said it was OK and nothing to worry about – that peace of mind is so valuable. I feel so grateful that I have the privilege of having access to mammogram technology.”
“Come on girlfriends! Let’s look after our beautiful boobies! X”
“Mammograms were the only way that my cancer was picked up before it got out of control – there wasn’t a lump! So thank you, breast screening, you saved my life.”
“Not the most comfortable thing to do, but a life saver.”
So when you’re reflecting on the year gone by, and are thinking about changes you’d like to make consider signing yourself up for regular mammograms – it could save your life. Alternatively, if you’re too young for mammograms, take your breast health into your own hands – literally – and commit to checking your breasts each month.