… because a little piece of yourself goes into everything you knit …
~ McCall’s Knitting Slogan, 1955
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is easy to put on a pink ribbon to show your support. At Virginia Mason Federal Way, the team not only puts on their pink ribbons – they take out their knitting needles and get crafty to show support to patients who are called back after a screening mammogram.
A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray exam of the breasts to look for changes that are not normal. The results are examined by a radiologist, who looks for changes in breast tissue that cannot be felt during a breast exam. It’s the most effective way to find breast cancer early. Like with any screening test, going in for a mammogram can cause some worry about what the radiologist may or may not find. Receiving a callback for more testing (such as a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound or biopsy) can heighten this anxiety with the thought of possibly having breast cancer.
The Federal Way mammography team understands getting a callback can be a trying time for patients and three years ago started doing something special during Breast Cancer Awareness Month to show they truly cared. Judy Gross, radiology lead, coordinated the creation of handcrafted pink washcloths knitted by team members to give out to concerned callback patients.
“The team understands this is a difficult time for these patients,” said Vicki Wiitala, Federal Way Radiology’s clinic manager. “We want to do something special for them to show we care.”
And while knitting a pink washcloth seems like a simple gesture, it takes a village of volunteers to knit the amount needed for the month of October. The Federal Way clinic usually sees 15 to 20 patients per week who are required to come back for a diagnostic mammogram or additional views. The team needed to knit more than 100 pieces to give out during October. And all the knitting is done on the team’s own time – at home and during breaks. Besides the joy of knitting, why do they put in all this effort? Several of the team members have a family history of breast cancer, so they recognize the importance of raising awareness about having a screening mammogram.
“The goal of a mammogram is to find cancer when it is small,” explains Peter Eby, MD, who is the section head for breast imaging at Virginia Mason. “We recommend screening mammograms once a year starting at age 40. The odds of getting breast cancer at that young age are low, but finding it early gives women the best chance of beating it.”
Although the pink washcloths help raise awareness, it’s really more about comforting patients. “We felt giving out the washcloths brightened a patient’s day when they are going through a stressful and scary time,” explained Vicki.
It is not uncommon to be called for a second look after a screening mammogram, and it is important to remember most women do not get breast cancer if they are called back in.
“In fact, 7 out of 8 women don’t get breast cancer,” said Dr. Eby. “And 75 percent of callbacks turn out to be false alarms, but we still need to perform a complete and high quality evaluation. In most cases, we can tell patients there is nothing to worry about before they leave the department.”
In the end, a callback can be stressful, but knowing that most findings on a screening mammogram are not cancer can help ease the worry. And if not, there is always the pink washcloth to let you know you’re in the caring hands of a great team.
To find more information about mammograms and other imaging tests for early detection and diagnosis of breast diseases, visit the Virginia Mason Breast Clinic.