Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Good Ship Lollipop has sailed.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Shirley Temple was a force of nature. I loved watching her dance with Bo Jangles, admired her transition to adulthood and her international ambassadorial career, and was grateful for her decision to speak out about her breast cancer in Hollywood where breasts reigned supreme. Her disease was discovered through mammography in 1973. It took courage to speak publicly about her mastectomy from her hospital bed. She died last week at 85.

I wonder how she would feel about the never ending mammography debates of today? If she had known my daughter, I wonder what advice she would have given her about having mammograms?

Medical science has certainly transformed since the 70's. Now, my daughter has more information available to her, an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it. She also has me. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 46. That means that she has a ticket to access annual mammograms beginning at age 40, instead of having to wait until 50 to receive screening every two years like women in some other provinces have to.

In my day, I had no early warning system to alert me to be cautious, to pay attention to the preventive measures of diet and exercise, and to ruddy well book a mammogram. I had no known reason to worry. There was no cancer in my family at all (until recently...a first cousin has now been diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 60's).  It was my family doctor (thanks Dr. Wilson) who insisted that I simply make time to have a mammogram.

I feel that the system saved my life.

It's very hard to separate my own story from what I read in the headlines. Take last week for example, a study was released which was howling that mammography is useless and potentially leads to unnecessary treatments.

I have to stand by evidence based science. I know that knowledge, technology and treatments evolve over time. They certainly have over the 23 years that the BC Cancer Agency has been perusing studies and collecting statistics.

Our BC science and research gurus state that screening mammography is appropriate for women without symptoms or family history. They state firmly that lives have and will be saved through the test. They have been keeping statistics for decades and have concluded that earlier detection through mammography saves lives.

I may have lived if my tumour (slightly over 2cm) had not been found for another year or so. Maybe - or maybe not. But my scar would not be so small. My treatments would have been more costly, complicated and hard on my body.

Regardless, life has a reliable arc. Something will end our lives eventually...even if it's a natural death (Whatever that is? Old age, perhaps?) If breast cancer becomes my Waterloo years from now, I know that I will be thankful that it was initially found early. After all, I have had today.

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