Thursday, October 22, 2009

Back to School

I'll be spending the next 2-1/2 days in the classroom, hoping that my non-affinity for science won't be too great a hurdle as I take crash courses in biology, epidemiology, genetics, and more.

This is not a precursor to med school, I can assure you.

I'll be attending the National Breast Cancer Coalition's Project LEAD Workshop, a mini version of NBCC's more intensive five-day Project LEAD Institute, both of which are designed to equip laypeople to become community advocates for better breast-cancer research.

I have been wanting to participate in Project LEAD for quite some time and applied (unsuccessfully) to the full-blown Institute several years ago. The new Workshop is an open-enrollment program, and I'm really pleased to be able to take part.

Wish me luck!

Friday, October 16, 2009


A few weeks ago, I was asked to write a piece about what it's like to be married to an actor for a new website, Brains of Minerva, "a career and lifestyle guide for the enterprising LA actor."

"So I Married an Actor" was published this morning. Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Not Just Semantics

You learn something new every mammogram.

When I went for this year's mammogram, my second in Los Angeles, the technician asked why I was having a screening mammogram, rather than a diagnostic mammogram.

I looked at her blankly—for all of my experience, this was a first. I never knew that mammograms came in two flavors.

Now I do.

Screening mammograms are like regular check-ups. You have no reason to think there's a problem, but you go through the process just in case.

Diagnostic mammograms are done when there is reason to be suspicious—some symptom or some finding (like a lump) from a recent breast exam. They generally include additional views—basically, extra X-rays taken from other angles to give a more complete picture of the breast.

The technician said I should always have diagnostic mammograms given my history. In fact, she said, I'd had one last year.

I thought back and remembered that in 2008 my new (now former, which is another story) LA gynecologist referred me to the cancer center's imaging center for my annual mammogram. I called and made an appointment, then went in for the test. On the way out, I was asked to schedule my 2009 mammogram—a great idea, I thought. I picked a date, and off I went.

Neither time was I asked what kind of mammogram I wanted.

The technician explained that I don't get to choose the kind of mammogram I have—it's up to the doctor who writes the prescription (for outside doctors) or the order (for those, like my oncologist, who is at the cancer center).

Well, no one wrote a prescription or order for this year's exam, so I guess I was scheduled for screening mammogram by default.

Now that I know the difference, I assume that my first mammogram, back in 2001, was diagnostic—it was at the behest of my gynecologist, who had detected a very subtle change in the tissue of my left breast. But all the mammograms I had in New York after that? I have no clue.

I saw my oncologist the following week, and he agreed that I should have been scheduled for a diagnostic mammogram. But he also said that because my results were normal (hooray!), and because I'd had a normal breast MRI six months earlier, and because I had no symptoms and no abnormal breast exams (clinical or self-), he didn't feel that I should go back and have the supplemental films taken—it was unnecessary to expose me to the additional radiation.

I'll have another breast MRI in the spring, I'll continue to do my monthly breast self-exams, and I'll continue to have clinical breast exams several times a year. But I'll also be sure to confirm that my 2010 mammogram is of the "diagnostic" variety.

This doesn't mean that everyone should have an annual diagnostic mammogram, of course. But someone with my history? Absolutely.

(And yes, the grammarian in me thinks that there should be a different term for "diagnostic" mammograms given to people with histories like mine. Because in the absence of a red flag, they're not truly diagnostic—they're screening. More thorough, yes, but screening nonetheless. Maybe "heightened screening"?)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Practicing What I Preach

I did my monthly breast self-exam today. (I make an appointment in my calendar each month so that I don't forget—a strategy I highly recommend.)

If you don't know how to do a breast self-exam (BSE), check out these resources:
To see a cool public-awareness campaign, check out Feel Your Boobies. (National Feel Your Boobies Week starts next Friday, October 9th. Who knew?

Add it to your to-do list, work it into your schedule, and get it done!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

October, Again

Well, it's October 1st, and those familiar mixed feelings about Breast Cancer Awareness Month have returned:
  1. righteous indignation (not to mention validation—and even more validation) and
  2. a profound sense of responsibility, both for getting the word out about the importance of routine screening and for ongoing vigilance about my own health.
Those feelings were so mixed last year that I didn't write a single post the entire month.

For a breast-cancer blog (even one that has branched out considerably), that seems like a missed opportunity—and a mistake I don't plan to make again.