We are living in an era of precariousness, fearful of meeting in large groups, small gatherings, and one-on-one meet-ups, and with good reason, There’s a pall over our daily conversations. One of the prevailing topics is the deaths and illnesses of loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and newsmakers due to COVID-19. We don’t go to places of worship, or to the workplace, or the gym. Some wonder if the hospitals and doctor’s offices are petri dishes for the virus’s spread. A recent study in JCO Clinical Care Informatics found that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer patients sought cancer-related care this year than last. COVID-19 isn’t the only threat to public health. Delaying cancer screenings such as mammograms, delays cancer detection. This can make it more difficult to treat cancers. It could even increase the number of cancer-related deaths. Cancer is most treatable when it is found in its early stages.
I should know. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer on May 1st of last year. When my doctor announced to me the findings of my breast MRI/biopsy—after I had undergone a series of examinations and procedures during the preceding months that included my annual mammogram, an ultrasound, and a repeat ultrasound—I was so shocked I couldn’t breathe. I wondered if I would die, or have to undergo a mastectomy in an effort to possibly save me. But my doctor, a petite woman, allayed my fears when she told me that my cancer was small, about the size of her pinkie fingernail. It was likely that I’d be able to forego radiation and chemotherapy. I entered a clinical trial and her words proved to be correct. My treatment consisted of a lumpectomy and oral medication that I’ll have to take for 5 years. But if my cancer had been detected in its later stages, my prognosis would have been much different. In fact, I might not be around to write this blog post. Following my surgery I agreed to promote breast cancer awareness through the local "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk" and appearing on promotional flyers as pictured above.
If you missed your mammogram this year, don’t wait until next year for a screening. It’s better to reschedule your mammogram a few weeks or months after you missed it than to delay screening for another year. Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer death among black women. Delaying a mammogram will do more harm than good. So be sure to take care of your breast self-exams, annual breast exams, and mammograms. Put on your mask and keep those doctors’ appointments!