Many women are afraid of their first mammogram, but there is no need to worry. By taking a few minutes each day for a week preceding the exam and doing the following exercises, you will be totally prepared for the test and best of all, you can do these simple exercises right in and around your home.

Exercise 1 – open your refrigerator door and insert one breast in the door. Shut the door as hard as possible and lean on the door for good measure. Hold that position for five seconds. Repeat again in case the first time wasn’t effective enough.

Exercise 2 – Visit your garage at 3 am when the temperature of the cement floor is just perfect. Take off all of your clothes and lie comfortably on the floor with one breast wedged under the rear tire of the car. Ask a friend to slowly back the car up until your breast is sufficiently flattened and chilled. Turn over and repeat on the other side.

Exercise 3 – Freeze two metal bookends overnight. Strip to the waist. Invite a stranger into the room. Press the bookends against one of your breasts. Smash the bookends together as hard as you can. Set up an appointment with the stranger to meet next year and do it again.

Yesterday was my yearly mammogram appointment. It really isn’t that bad anymore, but as the technician was pulling my breast and squishing it into the machine, I thought of this joke. I go every year and since having breast cancer and a mastectomy, I only have to have one breast checked. Silver-lining I suppose. I like the technician that I have as she sort of, kind of, tells me that things are clear. She is not technically supposed to, but her indication leads me to believe all is well. This keeps my crazy in check, I don’t have to worry for another year now…At least about breast cancer…

I read an article written by a survivor about her thoughts concerning the 5 year mark for breast cancer patients. There is no definitive test that is given after you are discharged from Cancer Care. I suppose that after a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, the expectation is that you are “cured”, cancer-free. There is also the discussion of what date you use to decide how long you have been cancer -free. Is it the day you were diagnosed, the day of surgery, or the end of treatment. I like to think that it would be the day of surgery, the day the cancer was removed from my body. That would be November 13, 2012. I have been clear for 4 years now, 4 years, 1 month and 23 days. I am so close to that fantastical 5 year mark and that means I will be fine.

Working at The Unexpected Gift, where I meet many women are diagnosed with cancer, are in treatment, or are re-diagnosed with cancer makes me feel like the 5 year mark does not mean too much. Being in a support group with survivors also does not bring confidence to the 5 year mark. It may not even be a recurrence, it might be a new primary cancer. In my support group, 1 has had 2 primary cancers and another has had 3 primary cancers. There is just far too much cancer these days.

A recurrence may happen at any time, so I urge you to be diligent in going for a mammogram EVERY year, for self-checking and for being aware of your body and what it is telling you. Of course, one never wants to have a recurrence, but as the doctors say – catching it fast is always better. Also, if there is a history of breast cancer or any cancer, be your own advocate and push your doctor to run the proper tests. You are never too young for a mammogram if there is a history or even if there is not. Take action for your health. It’s your life, right? For the small inconvenience and minor discomfort of a mammogram, I can tell you first hand it is way better than 6 rounds of chemo!

Over the days that I have been writing this blog, so much has changed. A blog that started in a light manner, suddenly becomes devastating. Such is cancer.

As I am writing this blog, I am reminded, harshly, there are always those cancers that come back, that metastasize and become uncontrollable. It is in these moments, I am grateful for the “sisters” I have made through support groups. The group of women that I have bonded with because of this evil disease called cancer. It is with a heavy heart, that I say, see you again to one of these sisters. She was too young and suffered too much, but her humour was never lost. She made us laugh and always came up with the most unexpected comments. She was quiet and so smart, when she spoke she was huge.

In the project Woman:Redefined. Dignity, Beauty, and Breast Cancer ( she says it so perfectly:

“I wanted the world, especially the doctor who slammed my file shut in disgust when I told him I wanted a double mastectomy, to know that I was still just as valid as before – boobs or no boobs. I would not be defined by those two lumps of fat – and I wouldn’t let others define me by them either. I was, am, and will always be more than this scar across my chest.

It does not define me but it does empower me.”

This blog is dedicated to Dianne Hamill, friend, sister, and angel. Rest now sweet friend. You will always be here with us.