Something is there that wasn’t there the last time I checked. I had the sinking feeling in my gut and a fear that I hadn’t felt to date. Like so many others, I do a breast self-exam randomly, not monthly like I should.

I have always had a fear of developing breast cancer since my paternal grandmother discovered hers at the age of 60 and had a mastectomy in the 1980s. Granted, she lived to be 84 and didn’t pass away for many years after her battle with cancer, but I was afraid, nonetheless.

I found a lump a month before I turned 40 and hadn’t had my first mammogram yet. It was time to call my primary care doctor to get it scheduled and luckily I got in quickly. It was the week of Thanksgiving and I didn’t tell a soul. I don’t know why I felt that way, but it was a stressful time and I didn’t want to ruin Thanksgiving with worry.

Once I made it to the appointment at NMMC Breast Care center in Tupelo, I was immediately reassured and along every step of the way. To be put at ease during a stressful time wasn’t something I was expecting.

No men were allowed past the waiting room so I was able to relax after changing into a robe. Lockers were beside the changing rooms so I was able to secure my belongings during the tests. They have a secondary waiting room where we waited to have our mammograms.

After I was called back, I was greeted warmly and walked through what would happen during the mammogram. Having found a lump, they did several additional scans, as well as an ultrasound and blood work.

When I was taken to the room for the mammogram, the lights were dim and it helped to make me feel less exposed. She cleaned the machine before we started so I knew everything was sanitized. The robe provided opened in the front with a sash to tie, so during the exam I opened the robe and only bared one side at a time. The technician explained each step of the way and let me know when to hold my breath and when to not move, just like during an X-ray. When each side was complete, she escorted me to a small waiting area until my ultrasound. They were able to tell me the results immediately, and like the majority of others, it wasn’t cancer or a tumor at all, it was likely a cyst and was very small. Once everything was complete, they took me back to the changing rooms, let me know I was finished and told me to stop by the front desk on my way out.

I received a phone call from my primary care doctor confirming the results, as well as a letter in the mail from the Breast Care Center (on pink paper) stating the same.

Since the first, I’ve had two additional mammograms. Last year the person doing the mammogram told me about genetic testing and they also gave me a score of my likelihood of developing breast cancer in my lifetime. They evaluate your medical history, family history, age, and even if you have ever had children, which I haven’t, which also increased my number. My score then was 28 percent. It wasn’t to make me afraid, but to make me aware so I take my health seriously. Because of my elevated risk I will never fail to get my mammogram yearly. Those with lower scores may only need one bi-annually.

Earlier this year, my Aunt Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was discovered by mammogram; she had a biopsy and surgery very soon. It was because of the mammogram that it was discovered very early and she had such a positive result.

Not every story is the same and now that I have another family member diagnosed, my score is up to 30, but I am not letting that scare me. I take that number, my self-exams, and my yearly mammograms to give me peace of mind for at least another year. Why let the unknown hold you back from having the same peace?

Amanda Underwood Burden is a page designer at the Daily Journal. She can be reached at amanda.burden@journalinc.com.

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