Small Talk

Dealing with the unthinkable

At first I didn’t want to talk about it, because I was certain it was nothing. Then I didn’t want to talk about it, because it was too frightening and stunning. Now I want to talk about it, so that some other young woman out there won’t fall for the very deadly belief that women under 40 don’t get breast cancer and don’t need mammograms.
Two weeks ago, my 28-year-old girl-child insisted on an ultrasound of a painful lump in her breast. I was so sure that it was nothing. My mom and I both have fibroids. That’s all it was. When the ultrasound led to a needle biopsy, I was still sure it was nothing. Statistics said so. It just couldn’t be. And then it was.
On Wednesday, we learned it was a 4 cm. cancerous tumor. On Thursday, they removed my girl’s left breast. She is a champion and is coping extraordinarily well with the shock of a lifetime.
I am still furious with the fates. These things are just so wrong in the great scheme of life, but one in eight women already know that. We have since discovered that in any room with more than two women, you are very probably going to find a breast cancer survivor who has gone through hell.
So, my beautiful young women everywhere, do not be bullied by our current medical standard that says you don’t need breast cancer check-ups until you are 40. Don’t jump on the denial bandwagon, as I did, when you or someone you love finds a suspicious lump. If it can happen in my very healthy, uneventful world, it can happen anywhere.
Do not think you are a hypochondriac baby if you feel a strange bump and insist on further scrutiny. Just do it! I don’t care if you have to look your physician right in the eye and make up a history. Explore your family history thoroughly and presume nothing. Then insist that you are more than ready for your mammogram close up, Mr. DeMille.
Even after 48 hours of agonizing with my child through painful prep and surgery, the alternative is just not acceptable. I will admit I am desperately grateful for modern medicine and that we live in the age of breast reconstruction, but letting breast cancer sneak up on you is one surprise every woman can do without.
Let’s recap. Annual check-ups, whether they’re offered or not. Never presume that lump or sore spot is nothing.
Got it? Good. You’ll thank me later.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer and devastated but grateful mother. Contact her at