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Why I Dread but Never Skip My Annual Mammogram as a Black Woman

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It is that time of year again. It is time for my annual breast exam.

My grandmother had breast cancer and had a lumpectomy. Eventually, in her 80s, it metastasized, and she died from the disease. This past spring my aunt was diagnosed. She had surgery and they say they got it all.

I go every year religiously, without fail, for my mammogram. I am very scared of getting breast cancer. It has taken my most favorite person and I do not want it to take me too.

Black women die at a higher rate than white women from breast cancer. This is because of bias in health care, and lack of access to services and culturally competent care. I do not want to be another statistic, so I work very hard to stay vigilant.

I dread the time before the mammogram and after. My mind plays tricks on me and all I can think of is how this time they are going to find something, and this will be the beginning of the end. I always make a first appointment in the morning because I know I will not sleep the night before. I go without jewelry or deodorant, so I am an easy patient. Luckily it does not hurt me — at least I am not dreading that.

After each scan, I try to see the pictures on the computer, trying my hand at being a radiologist. Sometimes I think I see something. I worry.

They say, “Thank you, Ms. Lorde. We will contact you by mail with your results.” The mail you want and do not want. Is this the year they tell me I am dying?

I spend my long week waiting for the mail thinking about how I will notify everyone that I have breast cancer. Figuring out who I would call first and thinking about how all of them would react. I think about my job and could I do it while sick (I need the income). Would I get a second opinion or go with the first doctor I speak with? Would I announce it on social media? Could I handle all the unsolicited advice? Could I handle all the condolences?

I have been ill all my life with a mental health condition. When I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder, no one wanted to hear about it. No one would know how to react. I felt shame and told no one. The irony is that I have had suicidal ideation most of my life and now I am worried about dying.

No casseroles for me when I was suicidal. But now if I have cancer, I am sure to get casseroles.

I also plan how I would tell my 15-year-old daughter. Would her adoptive moms let me spend more time with her now that I am dying? Would I finally join a church again to make sure I was going to heaven and have a minister I know to bury me?

It is scary to have a mammogram. It is scary to once a year take a test that could determine your fate. You have no control over cancer, and it can strike you at any time.

Even in my fear, I also think about my friends. How they will take care of me and make sure I am not alone in this. How they will go to appointments, cook meals, sleep over, cheer me up, and make me laugh.

It reminds me I am not alone. I will be OK no matter the outcome. I have God’s love and she has sent me angels and I will be forever cared for.

I finally got my letter in the mail. No signs of cancer. I can breathe easy again. One more year.

Mighty women, you can have your mammogram every year like clockwork too. You are brave. You are Mighty strong!

Getty photo by Jupiter Images.

Originally published: January 5, 2022
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