‘Sending this message’

Taking annual test first step in breast cancer prevention

Editor’s note: This article was written 15 years ago and is being reprinted as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month.

I am writing this letter to the editor because I have a message that I want people to hear regarding “Breast Cancer Awareness.”

I am amazed at the number of women that I hear talking openly on how they have never had a mammogram. Some of the reasons that I have heard are:

“There is no cancer in my family so I have nothing to worry about;” “I heard that the test really hurts;” and the best one is, “What I don’t know won’t hurt me.”

Well, if people want to roll the dice with their lives, that is their business.

But I am sending this message to husbands, boyfriends and significant others. If you love the woman whom you are with, you will insist she has a yearly breast exam and mammogram and has it done by trained professionals.

Six years ago, my wife had her yearly mammogram and an abnormality was discovered. Upon the advice of the doctor, she had a sonogram. After the doctor read the test, he decided it was nothing to worry about because they see these all the time. My wife and I were ecstatic, and on the advice of the doctor, we immediately scheduled the test for next year. My wife dodged a bullet and was extremely happy.

It never occurred to us to get a second opinion – to see a breast specialist. We were just happy she was all right.

One year later, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am not saying that the outcome may have been different if we went to a specialist, but I will always wonder: What if we did? Would she still be alive today?

When we finally went to the specialists at a clinic in Buffalo, I was astonished at the number of women who have breast cancer from Western New York. When we went for my wife’s first chemotherapy session, I was shocked to see at least seven women from Dunkirk in the waiting room. Breast cancer is not a rarity. Let me answer some of the questions the best that I can:

1. No one in my family has ever had breast cancer. This was true with my wife. Nobody in her family had cancer, either. Three weeks after Gloria’s funeral, her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, also. She has started chemo sessions at Sloan Kettering in New York.

2. I heard the test is painful. Never having a mammogram myself, I cannot tell you if this is true. But, in your mind:

a. Imagine, if you can, the pain of having three major surgeries in four years. Imagine the pain of a deformed breast.

b. Imagine the pain of seeing all of your hair fall out, grow back and then fall out again.

c. Imagine the pain when the doctor tells you that this particular drug is not working and we need to find another.

d. Imagine the pain of a drug causing so much pain to your skin that you cannot stand to be touched, let alone hugged.

e. Imagine the pain of having a drug cause your hands to break out in a rash, the skin to crack, all your nails fall off and to have a kindergartner refuse to hold your hand because they are like the hands of a witch.

f. Imagine the pain of going through weekly blood tests, monthly bone scans, cat scans, chest x-rays and God only knows how many other tests. You be the judge – a little discomfort or some of the pain mentioned above.

3. What I don’t know won’t hurt me. Well, maybe not. But what will it do to the man you love or your children?

I am asking all men to please ask your loved one, “Honey, when was the last time you had a mammogram?” And don’t let it stop there. Go with them to the doctor, go to the hospital or clinic with them for the test, help with the breast examination and best of all, celebrate together – with God willing – when your tests come back negative.

My wife suffered so much and as I said before, who is to say what the outcome would have been if we were sent for a second opinion? I will never know, but I will always wonder.

You may be thinking to yourself,” Why doesn’t he mind his own business?”

Two years ago, my wife and I met with a wonderful priest from the Diocesan Counseling Center, Father Jim Croglio. He asked Gloria what she felt in her heart about having cancer. When she answered, I almost fell out of my chair and it took awhile to stop crying.

She said, “I am mad as heck about this. I don’t know why God did this to my family and it hurts me so much to see my husband in so much pain and I can only imagine what this will do to my children. But I hope that because of all this, some good may come out of it. Maybe because of the drugs that worked and did not work, someone will benefit. Maybe someone that knows me will go to the doctor more often. I can only hope and pray that this will help someone else.”

So this is why I am writing. Gloria, this is for you. I don’t want your suffering to be in vain and as you wished, I hope it will help someone else. Gentlemen and significant others out there, if this doesn’t convince you to make sure your loved one has a yearly mammogram, then I have some other help for you. I can give you the names and telephone numbers of some tremendous support groups. I will give you the number for Father Jim and I have plenty of pamphlets on how to “Survive the Loss of Your Spouse.”

Keep rolling the dice or help your loved one. The choice is yours.

Anthony Popierlarz is a Dunkirk resident


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