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Let pink be your mammogram reminder

Pink is my favorite color, and it's in my last name. But pink is the color that reminds me it's time to schedule an annual mammogram. While October turns pink for breast cancer awareness, I am going to relay my personal experience as a reminder for both myself and maybe for you and your loved ones.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death of women in America. It impacts one in eight of us in our lifetime. According to the National Breast Cancer Organization, 252,710 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer. At least 40,500 will die. Breast cancer is rare in men, but an estimated 2,470 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 460 will die annually.

When I was 21 years old at a college track meet, I had a pain in my right breast. Later I felt a lump. It felt bigger two weeks later. I wanted to put it off, but my mom convinced me to make an appointment right away. Fast forward three weeks: My family practice doctor got me into ultrasound and into a specialist breast cancer surgeon, and I was having a lumpectomy in May 2000. It ended as a benign tumor the size of golf ball with "pre-cancerous" cells.

I asked my surgeon, "Does this mean I will have breast cancer one day?" He said no and there was no guarantee or way to know. I was frightened. I had a 3-year old son, hadn't graduated from college yet and my morbidity flashed before me.

The haunting of the potential of breast cancer has been with me for the past 17 years, with no lumps since that time.

Two years ago, I had cleared my schedule to take in the activities of my son's senior year of high school. Then we got a call. My mother-in-law, who lives less than a mile from us, had an early stage of breast cancer. She would need treatment, five days a week and 100 miles away.

My clear schedule allowed me to drive her most mornings to Bismarck. In mid-December, we walked into the Ellendale gym for the first game of my son's last basketball season, just hours after my mother-in-law's final treatment. She has remained cancer free since that day.

Every October when there is pink everywhere to bring awareness and research dollars to breast cancer, I think of women like my mother-in-law who commit to having annual mammograms, no matter where they are located or their socioeconomic status.

Yes we wear pink and buy pink for the breast cancer awareness and research dollars it brings. Support those causes. But please do not only buy pink or share pink items for breast cancer awareness.

Schedule your mammogram. Go to your mammogram. Ask the women in your life to schedule their mammograms.

The pink of last October reminded me to schedule my first mammogram. I did it earlier than the recommended age of 40 because a dear friend of mine went to her first mammogram at age 40 and was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I didn't have to drive 100 miles for a mammogram. The "mammogram truck" came right to my rural clinic, and the technician, I felt, had a special calling to drive the truck to rural clinics all over North Dakota and serve the needs of rural women.

My mammogram was clear. Nothing. I will do it again and again, annually after the age of 40 and pray always for the clear result. But if the result ever comes back different, I will know I have done every preventive measure I can to receive an early diagnosis.

Before you buy a pink item this month or donate to a breast cancer awareness fundraiser, schedule your mammogram. Ask the women in your life if they've scheduled theirs. Let pink be your reminder.

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