It took the death of a childhood friend this summer to finally force me to get my first mammogram.
Like me, she was in her 40s. She had suffered from breast cancer for about four years, and died leaving behind a shattered family: a husband who had supported her throughout her illness, four young children, a widowed father, three siblings and their families.
“I wish I had gone to the doctor sooner,” she had told me when she was first diagnosed. “I wasn’t feeling well, but I was so busy.” She was like many of us, juggling children, a full-time job, and other responsibilities.
In her words, I heard myself, and what I told myself regularly. I’d delay all kinds of tests or procedures because I was too busy.
Which, in my case, was nothing short of recklessness. Women over 40 are recommended to have mammograms done every year. I was overdue by years, not months or weeks. And the fact that my maternal aunt had also been diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s only added to my carelessness.
I had run out of excuses.
More than 40,000 women die from breast cancer in the United States every year. It's the second leading cause of women's death from cancer.
Getting the order from my doctor and making the appointment took not more than 15 minutes total; getting to the hospital 12 minutes; sitting in the waiting room, about 15 more. The mammogram itself took less than 30 minutes.
The procedure is mildly uncomfortable. A pinch here, skin stretching there, pressure from the machine on sensitive parts of your body, and the fact that you are in front of a technician (female, thankfully, in my case) baring yourself. Other than that, it was a straightforward process.
But the hardest and most agonizing part was waiting for the results. I was told I could go online, set up an account and get them the next day. I didn’t. I wanted time - to make Dua.
Which is what I did once I got home. In every. Single. Prayer. In every prostration I could.
It’s what I did when we traveled for a short family trip out of town the day after the mammogram. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said that the Dua of the traveler is accepted (Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud). I prayed mine would be as well.
I asked my husband and kids to pray for me. Especially the preschooler. I knew from experience that her prayers were almost always answered - and quickly.
I begged Allah for a long, healthy life. I begged for forgiveness. And I looked back with regret and disgust at myself for the things I should have done and didn’t. At the things I shouldn’t have and I did.
I asked myself, if the results were negative, as I had wanted, how would I live my life differently?
And if they were positive, what would change? What did I need to prioritize? What strings did I need to tie? How much time would I have left to live? Would I recover? How much pain would I endure?
The questions swirled in my mind as I prayed and waited.
I lasted five days. Then I set up the account. With one last Dua, I clicked on the results.
Negative. Alhamdu lillah.
I immediately prostrated, thanking God. And I reminded myself of my promises to live more conscientiously. To make amends.
I also reminded myself that this was like a stay of execution. Allah decided that it wasn’t time - yet. But that time would come - when He had determined it, and how He had determined it.
The screen with my results reminded me of this too. It said that if any lumps were found before my next scheduled mammogram in one year, I should have them checked out and biopsied immediately. In other words, mammograms may give us some reassurance, but no guarantees.
And such is life. The only guarantee is with Allah. Our health is a blessing, and a trust from God. We will be asked about how we maintained it - regardless of how and when we die.
So get that mammogram. We owe it to Allah. Perhaps it can even be considered an act of worship, fulfilling the obligation to take care of our bodies. And tell every one of your female relatives to do the same. Schedule it for them if they can’t do it themselves for whatever reason. But don’t delay.