Jen Jeffrey: Breast Cancer Awareness – It Is A Big Deal

Sunday, September 30, 2012 - by Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey

It has always been hard for me to reach out. It has been hard for me to impose on someone if I have a need. I have been labeled a “silent sufferer” before. I try not to be, after the last four years I have worked hard in taking my place in this world and to feel as though I count just as much as anyone else. Yet, it seems when I really need something, and finally get the guts to ask for help, the way I approach it is by ‘whispering’ and being very casual about it – so that I am not imposing. “It’s no big deal” I say, when inside - I am screaming “I need help”.

If an occasional car maintenance issue comes up or even this new thing I took on with dating gets a little frustrating; it is not a big deal (I admit it – I don’t know how to date, I may as well give up). To me, that is trivial and those are issues that I know God is out before me making a smooth path and I trust Him. What has become a big deal for me is my health.

Since I no longer work for corporate America, I have not had health insurance. I am only 46 and I am pretty healthy, my blood pressure is good, my cholesterol is good and I don’t take any prescription medication. I was pretty active and yes, I need to work on getting back that consistency and making sure to eat healthy; but other than that – I am a healthy person.

I guess this Obamacare issue is supposed to be a help to people like me. I am not politically minded with all the answers and will not discuss politics in an article but I have to say – I am beginning to panic about the year 2014 when I will be penalized for not having health insurance. I have looked into health insurance and it is simply not affordable. If I cannot afford insurance, shouldn’t I be allowed to just spend what income I have, at a time when I need a doctor?

But now… an issue has come up that has me a bit concerned. I found lumps in my breast. I wasn’t too freaked out about it at first because, when I worked for a doctor some years ago, I had found a few lumps and we checked it out learning it was benign cyst that were possibly caused from my caffeine intake. Once I reduced my intake of caffeine, they cyst went away.

I had not checked myself since that time. After writing people profiles and coming across three brave ladies who dealt with cancer; I decided to do a self-breast exam because I had notice tenderness in my breast lately. The lady who had breast cancer said that it was unexpected for her because she did not have a family history of cancer. I know we can’t depend on our family history keeping us immune from having cancer – especially with the way our world is changing and with the USDA approving foods and other products we use daily that have proven to have cancer causing chemicals.

We ignore this and eat the processed foods anyway thinking “It won’t happen to me”. Not to say this is the reason for more people having cancer today but it is something to think about. It is a reason for us all to be aware of what we really are putting into our bodies instead of just trusting the government to tell us it is okay. Are we actually going to wait for them to come out and say, “Oops, sorry – we were wrong,”?

When I did my self-exam and touched where I am tender, I did find lumps. I found a few lumps that were the size and softness of the cyst that I had had before. I knew it was nothing to be alarmed about and decided to be aware of my caffeine intake again but as I kept moving my fingers across my breast the way I was taught, I found a nodule that I had never felt before. It was a hard small pea-sized nodule. That concerned me. I felt two more like that in my right breast also. With the tenderness I was experiencing and the new foreign nodules that were different from the soft larger ones – that were quite in each breast also; I knew I had to get checked out.

I still reduced my caffeine intake hoping that at least the lima bean-sized lumps would reduce and possibly the small hard ones. They haven’t yet. So I reached out to a friend of mine who had overcome breast cancer hoping she would be able to give me advice on where I could go to have a mammogram at low or no cost. She was going to get back with me but I know when she prayed for me – that was all I needed and I needed to do my own research. I told her that I knew it was nothing… “no big deal”. Only I knew how it felt and it was probably something I really needed to check out.

I got online knowing that I had access to whatever I needed to know. What I didn’t know is – it isn’t as simple as a click of a mouse anymore. One place leads you to another place and you can’t just call a number and have your answer right then. I looked up the Susan G. Komen website and found an 800 number to call. I knew they would be able to give me a local number to call.

I was given the Mary Ellen Locher Breast Center’s number. I told them my situation and they were willing to schedule an appointment and even work with me about paying but they said I had to have a physician’s order to have a mammogram. The physician that I had worked for some years ago and who was also my personal physician is no longer able to see me and works now for a private company. I have not found a new physician as I know that a new patient visit is over a hundred dollars at most places. I have not wished to establish care with a physician’s office when I was pretty healthy and didn’t really have the hundred bucks to spend.

But now, I needed a doctor to check my breast and confirm that they feel the lumps that I feel and to give an order for a mammogram. I still have the same problem – I don’t have the hundred bucks for a doctor’s visit and to then have a mammo after that. I could possibly swing the mammo but not both. So I ignored my problem. It will go away. It is “probably nothing” anyway. I also toyed with the idea of “what if it IS something serious… life has been so hard, what if this was God’s way of taking me home? Was that so bad? Swimming upstream does get tiring.

But even in moments of feeling overwhelmed with no clear answers, I don’t give up. I just have to take a breath. Sometimes I need a good cry - then I get back to swimming. I knew that I had to do whatever it takes to get seen about just for my piece of mind and to be safe. Surely someone would work with me on payments. I worked for a doctor – I know this can be done. I made a few more calls to physicians’ offices only to remember most physicians’ offices have a three month waiting period for an opening for a new patient. What if I could not wait that long? How do you know?

If it is nothing but discomfort, I can live with that – but if it is something that needs treatment, how much time do you ‘have’  to wait? How long have these nodules already been there? Why do I have so many? Why am I so sore? Why did God put this person in my path and have me tell her story of breast cancer which prompted me to do my own exam and pay attention to what was going on with my own body? When I told the story of my friend’s battle, I realized my thoughts of “It won’t ever happen to me” were stupid.

I really am sure it IS nothing – but to ignore it would be irresponsible. When my friend Tina said that she had been through a terrible divorce and over-stressed and did not have cancer in her family but while struggling to rebuild her life, cancer was growing inside her – it scared me after finding what I did in my own breast. I made several calls and it seemed every person on the other end of the phone did not care that I was a little afraid. They were all ready to just get off the phone with me. This made me feel as if it weren’t that important and I waited even longer before trying again.

I decided to call health departments. I tried the one closest to me in the Northshore area and the first thing they had available was late November. I wasn’t calling to only establish care; I wasn’t calling because I had an ingrown toenail or wanted something for allergies… I had soreness in my breast and felt several lumps – how hard is this to understand that I needed to be seen as soon as possible? I remember working in patient-referrals when I was on the other end of the phone assisting patients who needed me to set up an appointment with specialists, I cared. I even did what I could to juggle the schedule if it meant for me to call other patients with needs that were not as immediate as a patient who needed to be seen sooner.

Finally, I did find a clinic in Ooltewah who had an appointment as soon as Monday. I will go and have their nurse practitioner give an order for a mammogram and I will work out the cost with them. When someone is already stressed in life and a little unnerved with the thoughts of “what if” swimming in their head – jumping through so many hoops, making calls only to be transferred over and over or given another number to call; speaking with some people and disturbing their work day because you are asking too much – it makes you want to just “ignore it”.

If you are a fairly healthy person with no family history of cancer, it is easy to tell yourself, “It won’t happen to me”. The nodules that I feel probably are nothing but if writing about my concern encourages women to go get checked and they can catch something before it is too late, then I am glad God put this on my heart to write about.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is around the corner. Even if you have no family history of cancer – go get checked. Even if you do not have insurance - go get checked. Even if you have to make a few calls and jump through hoops – go get checked. It is a big deal.


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