Original Article Published by Gunnison Country Times
Thursday, October 3rd, 2019
Chris Rourke, Commentary

I was overdue.

Granted, it was just a few months, but it had been about a year and a half since I had my last mammogram. Life is busy — there’s work. Oh, there’s always work. And the kids? The house needs cleaning, and I need to get to see my horse. Missing an annual mammogram is easy to do. Besides, I feel fine, I told myself.

There’s a myriad of reasons women don’t schedule their annual mammogram. Yet, according to Dr. Karien Campbell, women who get regular screenings have a 30-40 percent greater chance of living should they be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Recently, I learned of a friend’s diagnosis, and I threw myself into gear. Sure, there’s hesitancy — what if that new fancy 3D mammography machine finds something? But what’s worse — what if I don’t find something before it’s too late?

I booked my appointment with Gunnison Valley Hospital and within two days I was headed off for my screening. The check-in procedure seemed much more streamlined since the last time I had a mammogram. In a matter of minutes, I had my paperwork and I was off to radiology.

Seamlessly, I was taken to a small room to fill out paperwork and then ushered to a changing room where I slipped on a warm, pink cozy robe, thanks to the efforts of Tough Enough to Wear Pink (TETWP). It was like a big, warm wave of reassurance wrapped around me.

Yet, the organization has contributed so much more to our valley than warm robes. This year, I got my first mammogram on the high-tech machine which TETWP paid for. Another 10 minutes and my scans were done. Easy peasy. Th en the technician allowed me to see the difference that the 3D machine makes.

She showed me the layers of tissue which the images captured, and why women with dense breasts are better served by a 3D machine rather than a traditional mammogram. Rather than a flat, 2D image which can hide inconsistencies, doctors have the ability to look at suspect areas from many angles.

Within a half-hour, I was in and out. A week later I learned I’m fit as a fiddle. Since the procedure is so simple and so vital to maintaining health, it floored me to learn another good friend hadn’t received a mammogram in three years.

I scolded her vigorously. Sure, life is busy, but when statistics are what they are, it only makes sense to take the time for screening.

Breastcancer.org states one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Nearly one-quarter of a million new cases of breast cancer will be reported this year. More than 40,000 women are expected to die of breast cancer this year.

And 85 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. My intent isn’t to scare anyone — well, maybe it is, as long as it scares women to action.

But there’s good news. Breast cancer death rates are dropping thanks to advances in treatment, earlier detection through screening and awareness. Gunnison Valley Hospital has one of the best machines for imaging and reading screenings in the state.

Now, TETWP and the local health system are adding to the expert care through a new radiologist supported by other new diagnostic equipment.

What’s more, women who do not have insurance to cover their annual mammograms have options. TETWP can guide those women so they can get the screenings they need.

“No one should go without a mammogram,” the subject of a breast cancer awareness story in this week’s edition said.

My friend who received her recent diagnosis told me when she learned of her results, she was calm. She knew that the local organization had her covered with treatment options, travel arrangements, a nurse navigator to help with insurance claims and emotional support.

I’ve watched the organization grow year over year in enthusiasm and its ability to help the community. Warm, fuzzy robes are just a symbolic way of how TETWP has women covered.

This is national Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Please, take advantage of the wonderful services we have in the valley designed to detect this disease at early stages. Take the time, pick up the phone and get on the radiology schedule.

It’s a simple screening, it takes such little time and it can save lives — including yours.

(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at chris.rourke@gunnisontimes.com.)