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Debbie Woodbury Headshot

A Secret Fear Teaches Me an Ugly Truth About 'Awareness'

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I've been keeping a secret for a few weeks. Although it was very much on my mind, I couldn't tell my husband until it was absolutely necessary. Because my daughter, who is away at college, doesn't need to know, I lied when she asked me what my plans were yesterday.

I kept my secret to myself because I didn't want to worry my family. To be perfectly honest, however, my silence was also meant to keep a lid on my own anxieties. Of course, I'm talking about my yearly mammogram.

Despite all the usual reassurances, I still dread the thought of breast center. For me, it's the Ground Zero of my cancer experience and, because I have the emotional memory of an elephant, it is very easy to relive those first awful cancer moments just by walking in the door.

It also doesn't help that my first mammogram after my mastectomy was a horror-show emceed by the most insensitive technician on the planet. On top of that, I've never had a post-diagnosis mammogram that didn't require "a few more pictures." That never happened before the September 2008 mammogram that changed everything.

Exactly four years later, I stood there as my one remaining breast was stretched and flattened, hoping to tough through my emotions. Back outside to wait -- will I be sent home this time without further ado? When the technician came back and told me the radiologist wanted "a few more pictures," I should have expected it, but an immediate surge of fear bolted through me.

More pictures and biting my lip to keep from crying. Again, I went outside to wait. This is usually the point where the technician comes back and tells me I can leave, but that didn't happen. Instead, she told me the radiologist wanted to speak to me and led me into a small consultation room. You know, the room where they tell you bad news. I sat there alone for a few minutes and all I could think was, I can't believe this is happening again.

The radiologist came in and started asking a question, stopped in mid-sentence and said, "It's nothing bad." She explained that, because I have dense breasts and a history, an MRI and possibly an ultrasound were recommended to look further. Strangely, while I was relieved she wasn't telling me she saw something troubling, I wasn't completely reassured.

I walked out to my car and called my husband. As my tears washed away stress and fear, I was left with an awful realization. Three years and seven months ago, I was diagnosed with Stage 0 DCIS breast cancer. I do not have metastatic breast cancer and, still, I am fearful. How in the world do women with metastatic breast cancer find the courage to face that fear every day?

As we "celebrate" Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am aware of the ugly truth. Pink ribbons and pink products will not save women dying of metastatic breast cancer. There are a lot of businesses out there who want to cash in on this illness. Just last week, I started getting phone calls from a breast cancer "charity" looking for donations. How did this organization, which I've never heard of, get my unlisted number and my name? And what will they do with the money they want me to donate?

Lining other people's pockets in the name of breast cancer will not save our sisters living with metastatic cancer. Only research will do that. Please "think before you pink." Check out any organization you plan to support carefully before you donate by asking these critical questions. And, most importantly, be part of the solution by joining the Army of Women so you can contribute to the research necessary to find ways to prevent and cure breast cancer in our lifetime.