May 1, 2004
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
AS A PERSON manages with the many problems of MS, he or she might forget to take screening tests for other, unrelated health concerns, such as breast cancer.
More women in the United States get breast cancer than any other type of cancer, except skin cancer. The number of cases per 1,000 women has increased slightly every year over the last 50 years. It's the second leading cause of death from cancer in women. (Lung cancer causes the most deaths from cancer in women.)
Men get cancer of the breast, too. In 2003, 1,300 new cases of cancer of the breast in men were detected. Because men have less breast tissue, the cancer may spread to other tissue before it is detected. Men, like women, are encouraged to do self-breast examinations to detect any changes.
The American Cancer Society recommends that a woman have a mammogram every year after age 40. If she has a mother, daughter, or sister with breast cancer, she should discuss her situation with her physician since a mammogram might be suggested at an earlier age.
A mammogram is a special x-ray of the breasts and a screening device to detect tumors too small for you or your doctor to feel. Tumors can be benign or malignant (cancerous). Many women have benign breast conditions, but since the incidence of cancer increases with age, it's important to have a yearly examination. Medicare and most insurance plans will pay for the cost of a mammogram.
With this information in mind, I made an appointment for my yearly mammogram, scheduling it well in advance; appointments usually fill up months ahead of time. And as I did for past examinations, I had to decide how I would manage to have the mammogram.
I've gone through different phases over the years. Since being diagnosed with MS, I had used one cane, which progressed to two canes, and then to a long leg brace with lofstrum crutches. For my last exam, I had a friend take me in a wheelchair; I knew I could no longer stand for the exam. This time around, I didn't have anyone to push me in a wheelchair so I decided to take my scooter in my accessible van. I called the x-ray department first to find out if a wheelchair would be available in case I needed one and was assured one would be there for my use if needed.
I left early to find a place to park my van. Then I drove my scooter to the appropriate place to register for the exam, followed by driving to the waiting room. A few individuals took a second look at my scooter, but no one said anything. In a few minutes, a short thin woman called my name and asked me to enter the room for the mammogram.
The mammogram technician looked at me and said, "I have never done a mammogram on anyone on a scooter, and I am not sure how it will work. Will you fall off if I move you?" She asked me several more times if I could fall off and if she needed to help me get undressed and into the hospital gown. I said I was secure on my scooter and did not need help getting into the hospital gown.
My visit was turning out to be less than ideal. The technician hovered about as I changed, and when she asked if I could move closer to the mammogram machine, I saw her hands were shaking as she positioned the equipment. I said I could use a wheelchair if she preferred that over the scooter, while she repeated, "I have never done a mammogram on a scooter."
Following her directions, I got as close to the machine as possible. I had to move my position a number of times for her to obtain the correct view of my breasts, and each time she asked, "Are you going to fall off? Am I hurting you?" After taking the mammogram pictures, she asked me to wait until the radiologist looked at them to see if she needed more.
When the technician returned, she smiled. She told me she had all of the pictures she needed. Then she looked at the scooter and said, "It seemed to have worked out okay."
As you can see, getting a mammogram may be somewhat uncomfortable for those with MS; you can't predict how nervous a technician may act. However, technicians can overcome their trepidation, and knowing the results of the exam is completely worth any brief period of awkwardness. A week later, I received a notice in the mail, stating my mammogram was normal. I felt a sense of relief.
Now I look forward to another medical experience on my scooter.
Copyright © 2004, Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis