Breast Exams & Multiple Sclerosis
October health awareness moments are dominated by pink for breast cancer but as I slowly stepped up to the machine for my annual mammogram, I muttered that it might take a bit longer than her usual clients to move, because of my MS. She helped position my left breast under the plates but she wasn’t really paying attention to my exam because all she wanted to know was ‘how did they know you had MS?’ I took a deep breath and held it as she took the first image and then when I was permitted to exhale, I started my diagnosis story but I knew immediately that really wasn’t what she wanted to know.
Turned sideways, squeezed and manipulated and again holding my breath I knew the question I would ask her as soon as I was able... ‘do you think you or someone you know has MS?’ She stopped, fortunately after releasing me from those steel jaws of the machine, looked me in the eyes and told me how she had gone numb on one side of her body from head to toe, but the doctor said she probably had a stroke.
“How do they know if you have MS?” I told her she needs to find a neurologist who listens to her history – someone who she can tell all of her story to and put that together with any physical evidence of an exam or an MRI.
Turning to the other side she got out a few more questions wondering if I had an MRI and told me she did too but her neurologist said it was worthless because they didn’t give her contrast. It was all I could do to keep from exclaiming BullSh$t aloud, because contrast agent only helps to see active inflammation and if she had lesions they would be visible whether or not it was given, but it was time to hold my breath again for the next image. Quickly she got me positioned for the final shot and again I was told to take a deep breath and hold it. All I could picture while I did that quick moment was how she has been holding her breath for a long time wondering if she has MS.
She helped slip my arm into the gown and then we had a chance to steal a few moments from her schedule to talk longer. I explained a bit more and then I asked – ‘is there anything else that bothers you?’ She went on to tell me her leg on the other side was always delayed and didn’t keep up with her right leg; she had even given it a not so nice name of its very own. I smiled at her and gave my disclaimer – you know I’m not a doctor or even a medical person, but you just told me more of your history which is what you want an MS specialist to do. Curious, I asked what the doctors did for her after her stroke, to which she said they did nothing except put her on blood thinners.
I knew we were running out of time so I quickly asked her if she was satisfied with the answers she had from the doctors? No. Do you want to know more about what might be wrong? Yes. It could be Lyme disease or a vitamin deficiency or one of many other things that look like MS, I said. She acknowledged that and then asked who would I go to for a good MS doctor, but she also looked at the clock and I knew we had really made her schedule run late with all of her questions. I pressed my card with my contact information into her hand and said she could call or email me with any questions.
We never know when we might be asked to share our MS journey and how we might make a difference because it is always with us – even in the moments of a mammogram and in the month of October when everything is pink, our MS orange is there.
As I left her room, I paused and turned to ask about my own exam – did the images look ok? I have a family history of breast cancer and just last year they found a strange lump on my left breast which they think was a cyst but needs to be monitored closer. Ironically, she could only give me the standard reply – the radiologist will call after they read the films. I do understand that unfortunately she has waited much longer to find someone who would take the time to talk with her about MS, than I will have to wait for my mammogram results. Pink or orange, It's all about awareness and spreading the word, right?
Wishing you well,
PS- Even though October is almost over, it is never the wrong month to get your breast cancer screening done... Don’t put it off.
Does your employer provide workplace accommodations due to your MS?