Like Katie Couric, I waited. It wasn’t a good idea.
I was months late for my appointment for an annual mammogram and breast ultrasound because I was in no rush. I was enjoying my life as a healthy 50-year-old (or so I thought).
I waited because I was busy taking my first son to college. Because I was enjoying my summer. Because I didn’t have time for it.
But who has time for breast cancer?
When I finally got around to my screening, they found two lumps. One was cancer. The words no one ever wants to hear.
I had surgery (a lumpectomy like Couric), chemo and radiation. But who knows if the prognosis would have been better and if I would have even needed the months of chemo that left me bald, if I had gone for a screening sooner? And more worrisome, what might have happened had I waited even longer?
I beat myself up about my procrastination for a while. It took reassurance from my fellow pink sisters in an online chat room to forgive myself. After all, better late than never.
When celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Hoda Kotb, Robin Roberts and Katie Couric go public with their diagnoses, it saves lives. If it can happen to those beautiful, accomplished, public people, it can happen to you.
(For anyone who didn’t see the news, Couric recently revealed that she was diagnosed with breast cancer back in June, followed by surgery and radiation. She was six months late for her annual screenings.)
Couric’s done the world a service by sharing her story. Her bad news is good news for women everywhere.
You know that when word of her cancer hit the airwaves last week, thousands of women picked up their phones to make an appointment with their doctors – whether they were early or late.
Get screened. It’s a message that we’ll hear a lot of in October’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But it needs repeating all year long. Cancer knows no months. It comes when it pleases; usually when you’re not ready. That’s cancer for you.
For all the criticism of “Pinktober” and the merchandising of a disease that strikes more than a quarter of a million women (and more than 2,700 men) each year, all the attention creates awareness and educates about breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death among women.
Early detection saves lives. Get your annual mammogram if you’re over 40. Get it 10 years earlier than a parent who had breast cancer (remember dads can pass along hereditary cancer genes, too). Add a breast ultrasound if you have dense breasts. (Ask your doctor about this. My tumor was not found on the mammogram, but it appeared on the ultrasound.)
Starting this week, we’ll be inundated with pink everywhere and I’m sure we’ll continue to see Couric being interviewed on every talk show. But just like she had a colonoscopy on national television to bring attention to colon cancer after it killed her late husband Jay Monahan, she’ll show the world what it looks like to have breast cancer.
It’s not one-size-fits-all. She had surgery and radiation. Now she’ll be on medication for five years. She got to keep her hair because she didn’t need chemo. Probably, like me and many other survivors, she’ll always have a little niggling worry in the back of her head with every even imagined lump or underarm soreness, that her cancer is back. Yet, thanks to today’s amazing technology, she’ll continue to be screened (on time) and hopefully, she’ll stay healthy.
So, in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, please take Couric’s (and my) message to heart. Get screened. Do it now. Don’t put it off.
Your life may depend on it.
Bethany Kandel is a New York City journalist. On October 9 she will celebrate 15 years of being cancer-free. She is the founder of BreastCancerFreebies.com, a website that helps previvors, patients and survivors find all the free resources and support available to them.