I arrive at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University Hospital for what I call my marathon breast appointment. For the next two-plus hours at the Betty Lou Ourisman Breast Health Center, I’ll meet with a nurse practitioner, an oncologist, a mammogram technician, and a radiologist.
This is my second comprehensive-care appointment at Ourisman, which derives its name and considerable funding from Mandell Ourisman, president of the local Ourisman Automotive Group, in memory of his late wife, Betty Lou, who died in 1992 of breast cancer. The facility provides exams, imaging, and genetic services. It’s part of Lombardi, the only National Cancer Institute–designated comprehensive cancer center in the District.
I’d visited Ourisman over the years for routine mammograms. Then, 22 months ago at the urging of my gynecologist, I registered for the center’s comprehensive-care program. My doctor thought twice-yearly breast exams—one from her, one at Ourisman—would benefit someone like me. Someone at high risk for breast cancer.
My mother was diagnosed with the disease in 1974 at age 39. She died four years later. My younger sister developed a cancerous lump at 27. She underwent a mastectomy of the left breast followed by seven months of chemotherapy. Sixteen years later, she’s cancer-free and training to run her second marathon.
I’m 49, and my family history has been a hot topic with every doctor I’ve encountered since I was in my mid-thirties and had my first mammogram. After that initial screening, a radiologist nonchalantly suggested that if I wake up every day worrying about breast cancer, I might consider a prophylactic mastectomy, surgery in which both breasts are removed before any cancer develops.
I didn’t undergo a preemptive mastectomy, and I don’t wake with cancer worries. Still, I take my situation seriously. Having one “first degree” relative—sister, mother, or daughter—with breast cancer doubles a woman’s risk of getting the disease; having two increases the risk fivefold. On average, nearly 13 percent of females born today—one in eight—will be diagnosed with cancer of the breast during their lifetime, according to the NCI.