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October Is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Rev. Andrena Ingram

October 31, 2012

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Now, I know you may be wondering what does it have to do with HIV? From this website, I found this bit of useful information: "HIV weakens the immune system and allows the growth of other viruses that can cause cancer. Scientists are working hard to figure out the links between HIV, other viruses and cancer and to make medications that prevent and treat these diseases. In the meantime, do what you can to stay healthy and prevent cancer."

I am 57 years old, and for about nine years my doctor has been after me to get a mammogram, and I kept putting it off. First, they were saying that you should get a mammogram beginning at age 40 ... guidelines then changed to 50. In any case, I kept putting it off ... not thinking it could ever happen to me. I thought, c'mon ... I already received a diagnosis of HIV over 23 years ago, and figured that would be it. I mean, what other health issues could I get that would affect me mentally? I said to myself: "Shoot, once you get a diagnosis of HIV, anything else is nothing." Boy was I wrong!

So, my doctor kept writing prescriptions for me to go to the nearest hospital to have the mammogram done, and I kept putting it aside or losing the prescription. Bottom line: Just ignoring it. Besides, I didn't want to take out a certain piercing (I know, TMI -- but it is what it is).

My doctor's office called me about a month ago to let me know that there would be a mammography van outside the office and would I get a mammogram the day I came in for my usual appointment. Well, that was easy. The van is gonna be right there? Don't have to make an appointment and sit in a hospital waiting room? This will be a piece of cake!

Went inside the van, no waiting time, pleasant service ... had the tata's squished (not too bad), and went on my way ... thinking to myself, "that oughta make Lizzy satisfied with herself!"

Life went on ... until about two weeks later when I got a call from Fox Chase Cancer Center telling me that I needed to come back in for additional imaging of my left breast. My stomach sunk. In fact, I was done for the rest of the day! Couldn't think about anything but the worst. Began to have an anxiety attack (yes, I do have those) and called my doctor's office and left a message on her voice mail. Controlled hysteria. I'm sure she heard it in my voice ... and she knows me very well.

Before the day was out, my doctor returned my call ... "Andrenaaaaaaaa ... it's gonna be okay, I'm looking at it now" ... and then talked me through the term "calcification," which basically are pockets of calcium in the breast tissue, which can be normal for some women ... and that they just wanted to look again, and magnify the image -- just to be sure. That calmed me down, and I did some "googling" myself. Before long, I was settled in my head and okay.

I went and got the second round of imaging. They had to magnify the image and most definitely magnified the pressure. They showed me the pic and explained what they were looking at, some large clusters (near the milk ducts) and some tiny, tiny, almost invisible clusters. It was those tiny clusters they were concerned with ... and then I had to go to a room and wait for the doctor to look at it, and come and consult with me.

Well, I was nervous ... but kept taking deep breaths.

The doctor came in, and told me they appeared to be benign. But I have to come back in six months for another imaging, to make sure. Phew!

It was a frightening experience. Grateful, so grateful that everything is okay.

But I must be truthful ... right after I got the call, and up to the point I went under the machine again, I kept chastising myself about waiting so long to get it done.

Ladies, it is very important to do your monthly breast examinations and, when appropriate, to get a mammogram! The earlier something is detected, the earlier you can be treated. Don't wait until it is too late.

More information here: National Cancer Institute.

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See Also
Fact Sheet on HIV/AIDS Malignancies
Other Forms of Cancer

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Is the Ribbon Enough?

Rev. Andrena Ingram

Rev. Andrena Ingram

Reverend Andrena Ingram (also known as "Pastor Andrena" or "Pastor Ingram") has become a strong advocate for those living in the margins, as she once was. She is an activist in the HIV/AIDS arena, herself living openly and unabashedly with the HIV virus for over 22+ years.

Raised in South Jamaica, New York, Reverend Ingram served seven years of active duty in the U.S. Army. She would later move to the South Bronx, where she attended Transfiguration Lutheran Church with Pastor Heidi Neumark as her pastor and mentor -- empowering her to rise up out of herself and her life challenges, which seemed to her, at the time, insurmountable.

Reverend Ingram is a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with a Master of Divinity. She has been the pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church on Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa., for the past four years.

Reverend Ingram can frequently be found speaking about HIV/AIDS, encouraging everyone "to know your status, get tested, and be informed." Silence = Death.

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