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Overcoming the Fear of Cancer Screenings

Fear of the unknown keeps many people from getting their routine mammogram, but overcoming that fear might be the difference between life and death.

When it comes to cancer, including breast cancer, early detection saves lives. It’s something National Breast Cancer Foundation CEO Janelle Hail knows all too well from personal experience. It’s easy for individuals to believe that regular screenings and mammograms are not necessary, or that they themselves are not at high risk for breast cancer, but this is a dangerous misapprehension. As Hail has noted, early detection by mammograms has helped drive the breast cancer death rates down by 39 percent since 1989. 

Hail was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34, and she credits early detection with saving her life. “Mammograms are an integral part of survival tools for women today,” she says. 

Early detection

“Life keeps making demands on us,” Hail explains. “The children need to be picked up from school, the laundry is stacking up, and the car needs gas. We find time to do everything necessary, but why do we postpone getting a mammogram? A mammogram can detect a lump two years before it is detectable to the touch.”

Hail has also noted that it’s important to continue to get routine mammogram screenings even after remission. “Five years after my original diagnosis of breast cancer, I received a call from my nurse with news from a routine mammogram,” Hail says. The nurse explained that there had been an irregularity, and the doctor wanted her to return for further testing. When asked if she should be worried, the nurse responded, “‘You know how it is, Janelle. You’re in the business of mammograms. You know they won’t sign off on it unless they are sure everything is OK.’”

Hail was overcome by a familiar fear as she hung up the phone, wondering if she was going to die this time. “The instant we step into the unknown, everything in us wants to scream out, ‘I don’t want to be here!’” she says. “Many women I meet say they are afraid to get a mammogram because of what they can find. It all goes back to fear — fear of the unknown.”

No F.E.A.R.

This is why Hail and her organization have developed what the NBCF calls the No Fear Plan.

  • F: Find medical help as soon as you discover something different about your breasts, such as nipple discharge, a dimpling of the tissue, redness, or other unusual symptoms.
  • E: End bad habits such as overeating, excessive alcohol, smoking, and other things that deteriorate your health.
  • A: Allow other people to surround you with care and help.
  • R: Run away from bad attitudes and unhealthy thoughts that fuel the fire of fear.

Rather than avoid a procedure that might reveal something we don’t want to find, such as breast cancer, the best thing we can do for our health is to consistently make sure we know everything we need to know about our health. Knowledge is power, and the more and earlier you know about your breast cancer risks, the more that can be done to keep you healthy and cancer-free. 

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