Peggy Orenstein is a brave woman. A breast cancer survivor, she has faced up to the fact that perhaps, if she hadn’t had a mammogram that revealed a tiny tumor when she was 35, it might have vanished on its own. She would not have known that it existed—and would not have undergone a lumpectomy plus six weeks of radiation. Nor would she have suffered the emotional consequences of being told, at age 35, that she had breast cancer.
At that age few of us are ready to come face-to-face with our own mortality. In last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, she writes: “Recalling the fear, confusion anger and grief of that time is still painful.”
But sixteen years after her diagnosis we have learned more about breast cancer, and Orenstein is willing to look the truth in the eye: “As study after study revealed the limits of screening — and the dangers of overtreatment — a thought niggled at my consciousness. How much had my mammogram really mattered? Would the outcome have been the same had I bumped into the cancer on my own years later?”
Regret is a tough one. After making a major decision that has life-changing consequences, few of us want to consider that we might have made the wrong call. Instead, most women in Orenstein’s position say: “I’m so glad I had that mammogram. It saved my life!”