I’ve wanted to write this post for a while, but I never quite found the right time to do it and kept putting it off. Not unlike the routine breast exams I find myself pushing off to the very last moment. Or until I get fed up of the constant reminders from my mom and husband to do it (Thank you both for that!).
Doing any type of check-up brings along a certain type of anxiety. Multiply that by 100 for those check-ups that have to do with cancer detection. Yeah, it’s stressful. And I completely understand why others may put it off too. I relate so much more to that anxiety especially since I’ve started doing it too. Even as someone working in the field and constantly asking others to get checked, I get nervous. Possibly, slightly even more so because I’m reminded daily of cancer’s realities through the patients we work with. And as the daughter of a former breast cancer patient, I’m at added risk which means I need to get screened at a younger age (usually 10 years before the age of diagnosis of the person in the family that had it). I did my first mammography at the age of 29 and today went in for my yearly check-up. The reason I’ve wanted to write this was to actually take you through the experience with me so that you may feel better prepared for what’s to come when you get checked. Just a small disclaimer here: This is my personal experience and views on the matter that should not be taken as a general example nor reflect the views of the NGO in any way. So before even going to the hospital, clinic or center you plan to get screened at, you need a doctor’s note, an ID and your insurance card. The insurance I’m currently on doesn’t cover much so I actually pay 78,000 LL for a mammary echograph (mammographs are for every other year in my case and I don’t remember how much the first one cost). That will differ based on your coverage. I’ve been doing my screenings at CEDIM in Abraj Center for the past three visits so they are my reference point (although I’d love to hear more from you on how it is in other places in Lebanon). I’ve been happy with their service so far and although they are professional, there is a lot of waiting in the process.
That’s probably the part that plays the most on my nerves, especially as I go on my own for these routine check-ups. A lot of the women I see there actually tend to be on their own too but if you’re one to panic, bring someone along like your mom or sister. It will help to have company. So after waiting for the form processing and your turn in the “salon” (usually full of several people each keeping to their own), you’re escorted to the top floor where the actual exams take place. I tend to get the most nervous in this part of the clinic because that’s where people also tend to get their diagnosis. It’s really hard when someone sitting next to you gets some bad news. Even though you’re complete strangers, you just want to reach out and hug them. At the same time, it gets you worried about your own turn. It’s human nature to feel this way.
Once you’re in the exam room, the doctor comes to check you. I’ve been doing my mammary echograph exams with Dr. Carla Hobeika, who put me at complete ease and doesn’t mind explaining things to me during the process (I always have a ton of questions).
The time I did the mammograph, it was with one of the young busy-body nurses (often in a pair of bright Converse shoes) that assist around the clinic. I’ll admit: it’s not a pleasant exam, but an important one so you put up with the discomfort that comes along with it. I can’t wait till someone invents a new mammography machine that caters to women’s chest comfort (if that term makes sense?). I believe it would play a big role in encouraging more women to get screened more regularly if so. So back to the exam room: the screening takes around 20 minutes. Dr. Hobeika is quite thorough and it is interesting to see the breast tissue on the screen as she does it so you feel more engaged in the process. You’ll see some dark circular shapes in the tissue now and then, but don’t be so quick to worry: they may simply be naturally-occurring cysts in the chest that are nothing to worry about. Asking when you see something is important and I find having a doctor who’s patient with that part really helps. After checking the chest and armpit area, we’re done and out I go. The results tend to take 1-2 days so mine will be ready tomorrow. The doctor put me at ease by mentioning that everything looked normal (thank God!). I’ll be back next year for my annual so until then, mission accomplished.
Well, there you have it! My personal account of a routine chest exam. The process itself will differ from place to place and doctor to doctor, which is why I’d love to hear more from you on this. How has your experience been if you’ve done this? What can be better? What helps? What doesn’t? And if you’d like to find out more on this, you know how to reach us.