I Didn't Let COVID-19 Stop Me From Getting My Mammogram — Here's Why I'm Glad I Didn'tOct. 19, 2020
By Janay Andrade
I've seen the pink ribbons and pink uniforms worn in October in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Like so many people, I've, of course, always supported the cause. But, I have to admit, I never expected to be one of the women represented by the pink pompoms or catchy slogans.
Now, after being diagnosed with breast cancer this past June, the month of October has become much more personal to me.
Every May for the past 6 years, I've scheduled my mammogram — like clockwork. I work in health care and have a family history of breast cancer, so I'm very aware of the importance of getting a mammogram every single year.
This past May, though, I considered not getting one because of COVID-19 and the chaos in my life. I wanted to reduce the risk I might be to my family, and I'd already canceled other doctor appointments for this reason. Then, a friend mentioned she was also late for her mammogram, but was finally making her appointment. I thought to myself: Despite COVID, I need to schedule my mammogram, too.
If I'm being honest, I was nervous about going to the Houston Methodist Breast Care Center. It was the first time I'd left home in two months or driven into Houston. But, wearing my mask and carrying hand sanitizer, I arrived at my appointment. I was relieved to find that the experience was similar to any other mammogram I'd had in the past — apart from the extra precautions taken due to COVID-19.
But then the call came. I needed to come back for an ultrasound. I wasn't worried — I'd ignored letters like this before. This time, though, even with the pandemic, I made my breast ultrasound appointment.
After my ultrasound, I found out that I needed a biopsy. As I left my house for the third time since COVID had begun, I still wasn't too worried.
But on June 18 at 10:30 a.m., my doctor called to inform me that I had breast cancer. I will never forget that phone call. It still plays back in my head — me turning to tears while he was still speaking. He told me that my diagnosis was a pretty nasty type of breast cancer — called HER2+ cancer. It's like having a Xerox copy machine in my cells, where the cancer cells just multiply on their own.
At this point, I remember thinking: Wow, 2020 has really taken a nosedive for me. I couldn't help but say to my radiologist, "I can't believe in a crappy year like this, this is happening." She reminded me that it's never a "good" time to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
It's now October, and here I am — half of my chemo done, surgery and radiation still to come. But, despite everything, I've realized that there are some advantages to my diagnosis happening during this pandemic. I have family at home, I'm not missing any events, my support network has the time to help me and no one has to feel bad about just leaving food at my door.
So, what's my message? I'm writing this in hopes that it gets women into action — using the month of October to remind yourself how important it is to get your yearly mammogram.
Yes, it's COVID-19. And, yes, it's time to stay home as much as possible. But you cannot forget to focus on your health, whether it's your annual mammogram or some other preventive test. Had I waited any longer to get my mammogram, I may have had a much bleaker prognosis. And while cancer has disrupted my life in every way imaginable, I know that any more delay in diagnosis would have only made my situation worse.
Back in June, my gut said stay home — but I'm glad I didn't. And you shouldn't either. Make your appointments and follow through with your screenings — it could save your life.
Janay Andrade is the director of employee benefits at Houston Methodist, where she has worked since 1998. When not working, she spends time with her three girls — sharing some of her family’s favorite past times: Raising pigs, traveling and antiquing for the perfect outdoor flower pot.