- Natasha J. Thomas, MD
Are You Afraid of Getting a Mammogram?
Pink ribbons and walks. Balloons and survivor stories. Research funds, pamphlets, and rubber bracelets. In the hustle and bustle of October's blush-colored push to bring about breast cancer awareness, many women go under the radar. They hide from their doctors and themselves, afraid that breast cancer screening could be the very thing that totally destroys their lives. And so they don't go, or wait 'til next year...every year.
I am blessed to be a doc that walks people through some of the most beautiful, scary, poignant and powerful moments of their lives. No moment is so replete with soul-level fear as is the moment when one faces the possibility of having a terminal illness. However, I think the burden of fear, the tricks of fear, are all just too unfair to go unaddressed.
So in this post, we're going to try to tackle the fear that prohibits many people from remaining current on their recommended medical screenings (for cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and all other chronic and potentially fatal diseases).
What Do You Say to Yourself?
Before you go to the doctor, or maybe when you're trying to convince yourself not to go to the doctor, what do you say? Are you "too busy." Do you "feel fine." Are you worried it's "too expensive" or that all doctors do is "try to push pills?" If you've used any of these rationalizations, you may be letting anxiety about your health lead you into a risky decision. Neglecting health appointments may lead to irreversible disease, and unfortunately, death.
Let's suppose you've made an appointment. You don't buckle or make an excuse and actually go to your visit. Prior to that time, though, do you tell yourself the doctors are going to find something wrong? Or that the headache you're having is probably an aneurysm or brain tumor. If so, try not to do this. Besides being unlikely, it's extremely distressing to go into medical visits with this mindset.
Have You Had a Bad Experience?
If you take an honest inventory of your past medical experiences, would you say earlier negative medical visits or procedures are coloring your feelings about seeking medical care? If so, you're not alone. I've felt the same way. Going to see doctors, even as a doctor, has at times left me feeling completely vulnerable. And I'm fully aware that some of my colleagues in the medical profession seem to forget the power of their words. One insensitive or poorly-timed remark can leave patients feeling "stupid," like they're seen to be overreacting, or like they're just one of 10,000 patients - that their unique experience is unimportant to the physician caring for them.
However, I know we can't allow previous experiences of poor bedside manner or unprofessional behavior to derail our health. Our families, our world - they need us. We need us!
Some people truly do have a phobia of doctors, though. It's called iatrophobia, or literally, "a fear of healers." If you think your fear of medical professionals is severe enough to be called a phobia, please revisit my Anxiety Series.
Are you Worth It?
Since we're being honest, let's take this whole thing one step further. Is there anyone reading this that avoids taking care of their health because they feel they're not worth it? You don't have to raise your hand, but I'm sure you're out there.
It's massively important to always take the time to be introspective, and to respect yourself enough to tell yourself the truth. Many people have picked up the message that their worthiness factor in this life is very low. They may have learned that from their childhood home, from ideas put forth in the dominant culture, from bullying at school or academic difficulties. It's common.
If you have talked yourself out of your latest physical exam, have a little conversation with yourself. Ask yourself, "am I avoiding caring for myself because I don't think I'm worth it?" Be honest. Your answer may actually surprise you.
You Are Brave/Strong/Smart Enough!
Most of the time, those who avoid medical visits and procedures do so out of the fear of the unknown - or the fear of the known in the case of many doctors-turned-patients. Either way, our true fear is that we will run into a health challenge that we won't be strong enough to handle. But you will be. No matter what, you will be. Besides, staying on top of your health care will typically make any condition found by doctors easier to treat - as early detection is key!
It's October and it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you are at the age of screening for breast cancer through mammography, or your family history indicates you start screening earlier, go ahead and get yourself scheduled today.
Tell yourself that you are brave enough to handle it, that your past doesn't dictate your future, that you're smart enough to select great doctors, and that you're worth the best care modern medicine can provide! Despite your fears, THESE are the things that are true!
National Breast Cancer Foundation
The NBCF website has tons of helpful resources for women wanting to learn about breast cancer, its prevention, screening, treatment, and everything in between! They also offer several downloadable PDFs you can share to help spread awareness in your community.
American Cancer Society
Well-known for resources on most types of cancer, the American Cancer Society website shares many of the same resources listed above, as well as resources for those who are living with breast cancer.
Do you know when you should start getting mammograms, how often to get them, and what types of facilities are accredited to perform them? If not visit the website below. To find accredited centers, call the National Cancer Institute at 1-800-4-CANCER or The American College of Radiology at 1-800-227-5463.
Breast Cancer During Pregnancy
Knowing what to expect when expecting is sometimes a challenge. Breast cancer obviously can be a scary complication to a time already filled with anticipation and concern. Thankfully, there are resources to help us.
New Diagnosis of Breast Cancer
Visit the website www.BeyondTheShock.com for yourself, your loved ones, and your medical providers. Their site is designed to help women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer. It's a place to develop knowledge for today and hope for tomorrow.
Free/Reduced Cost Mammography
To help off-set the costs of mammograms, especially for those who are uninsured or underinsured, free/reduced cost mammograms are a great option!