Mammogram guilt works!
By Colleen Steelquist, Hutchinson Center Science Editor
I got my annual mammogram today. Except it wasn’t quite annual—more like 14 months. I’ve spent the last two months procrastinating. I’ve justified the tardiness: the holidays, a crammed work schedule, tenderness around my cycle, and yes, the little voice that said, “Is it really necessary?” After all, my breast health has always been fine. Perhaps missing a scan wouldn’t really matter.
But then I sat at a staff meeting this week and our fearless leader, sounding uncharacteristically maternal, urged each of us to get our cancer screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies. Good health habits are de rigueur when you work at a cancer research center; we really do try to model proactive ways to reduce cancer risk.
A few years ago, the Hutchinson Center sponsored a big campaign aimed at increasing rates of colon cancer screening. It’s a worthwhile goal: People with colon cancer may not have symptoms for many years, and precancerous lesions or polyps may take 10 years to transform from benign to malignant. When caught early, the likelihood of full recovery is excellent, with more than 90 percent of patients with early stage colon cancer surviving more than five years.
Guidelines call for screening beginning at age 50 (earlier for those with a family history), so it’s become a midlife right of passage among my colleagues to get friendly pressure to schedule a colonoscopy when there are 50 birthday candles to extinguish. Apparently, no medical procedure is too embarrassing for water cooler discussions among cancer professionals!
So instead of ignoring that twinge of guilt I felt at the boss’ words, I emerged from the meeting and scheduled my mammogram. Who knew they could fit me in just two days later?
I chose to have my imaging done at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, the Hutchinson Center’s clinical arm right on our campus, so I didn’t even have to drive anywhere. I walked half a block and in less than 15 minutes, my mammogram was done.
Guilt served its purpose and now I feel silly for putting off the procedure. Two months of procrastination vs. peace of mind? I choose the latter. As I walked back to my desk, I thought about friends who found their breast cancers early through mammography. I’m glad they didn’t table their screenings either.
I spent a few minutes encouraging my newly 40-year-old co-worker to get hers scheduled, too. She’s at the recommended age to begin annual mammograms (earlier if there’s a family history of breast cancer). I recognized the guilty, I’ll-get-to-it look on her face. I handed her the phone number. She called. Just paying it forward.
Who can you guilt (ahem, encourage) to get screened for cancer today?