Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

The Mammogram

There is a word which will strike fear into the hearts of women. With just a single utterance we will fall to our knees, arms crossed tightly across our chest screaming “Why?, Why!”. That word is Mammogram.

I really haven’t given much thought to mammograms. After all, at 32, I assumed I’d have 8 more blissful years of virgin breasts before subjecting them to the dreaded procedure. When a family history pressed the need to be seen sooner, I’ll admit, I wasn’t prepared.

I have a vivid imagination and in the days preceding the mammogram, I created many scenarios that floated around my head, popping up at various moments reminding me the deadline was closing in. Other women would tell me “It’s better than getting a pap smear” which always made me feel better until I would see the smile playing at the corner of their lips, leaving me to wonder if they were really being truthful. Maybe it’s a vast conspiracy. Maybe the initiated keep the virgin mammogrammer’s in the dark, only to throw their head back in sinister laughter when we are out of sight. Maybe…

After filling out paperwork I am escorted back to a tiny sitting room with 2 dressing rooms adjoining. A TV drones instructions for Self Breast Exams (SBE) and 2 women in pink hospital tops are watching. A curtain is thrown back and I am told that everything on top must come off and am given a pink gift bag to place my items in. The gift bag is huge! I don’t know how much stuff they think I wear above my waist, but I could fit half of my closet in this bag. I notice a box of baby wipes with the words “Remove Deodorant” written on top. Aha! So I could have worn deodorant before I came, despite what the scheduler told me. I’ll know better next time. I struggle briefly trying to close the curtain enough so the ladies in the waiting room don’t see me. It doesn’t work. There’s still a small crack on either end that won’t be closed. I dutifully remove everything above the waist and put the hospital top on, snaps to the front. Mine is broken. It only has 2 snaps and they end just below my breasts. I’m just about to ask the Nurse for another when I realize, it’s supposed to be this way.

Back in the waiting room my Nurse, Nancy, calls me back for the Clinical Breast Exam (CBE). I follow her down the hall, valiantly trying to keep my top from flapping open to expose my midriff. Nancy looks at my breasts and performs a breast exam while I am sitting. Next she has me lie down, arms behind my head as though I’m relaxing in the warm summer sun. In fact, I’m tired and could probably take a quick nap right now if it wasn’t for the poking and prodding that’s still going on. I ask her about heredity and she affirms that getting a mammogram in your 30’s or even in your 20’s isn’t a bad idea if you have a family history of breast cancer. I’m also informed that I could have left my watch and necklace on. She then gives me some pamphlets and escorts me back to the tiny waiting room.

Browsing through them I read the same information I’ve always known; at the age of 40 women need to have their first mammogram. I am struck by the fact that no where in the pamphlet does it say some women should have one earlier.

My name is called and I follow my Technician, Rebecca, down the hall. When I worked on an assembly line, we would name a few of the more prominent machines. Names like Jaws, or Finger Muncher. I am relieved to see that “Crusher” is not emblazoned across the mammogram machine. Rebecca moves a cord out of my path, then a rolling stool sitting in the middle of the room. “You’d think we had this place booby trapped” she laughs. Um, isn’t that the point?

I warily eye the Crusher. It stands imposingly in the corner and I scurry past as though it will reach out and grab my unsuspecting boob if I come within reach.

Rebecca informs me that I am lucky! I will be getting a state of the art Digital Mammogram. Well whoopdeedoo. Does it still mash the breasts like a professional food eater mashes a hamburger during the National Championship? I’ll save my luck for later.

I am horribly ignorant about the actual mammogram procedure. I know it involves radiation and squeezing the breasts, but up until now I’ve always imagined a robot like platform being lowered over my breast to apply the pressure. Kind of like a die stamps out coins. I ask Rebecca if she uses different pressure settings based on a woman’s breast size. Let’s face it. I really don’t want my C cups getting mashed by the same pressure you A cup ladies get. She assures me it’s completely customized.

I step up to the machine and Rebecca lowers the Crusher’s platform to roughly the height of my waist. I’m horrified! I know I breastfed and all, but I didn’t realize they’d sagged that low! She pushes me closer and relief floods through me when the platform is raised to breast height, only now it goes higher and I feel like I should be standing on tippy toes. Visions of the machine going haywire and me hanging by one breast from the vicinity of the ceiling do nothing to calm my nerves. Rebecca is placing and smoothing and pulling my breast in an attempt to get as much of it on the platform and in the right position as possible. Then she lowers the meat and potatoes part of the Crusher, all the while still manipulating my breast to make sure it’s just right. I watch in horror as she cranks down the pressure. 10, 14, and finally 17 pounds of pressure the digital readout says. Ironically though, it’s not painful. Rebecca says that can change depending on what time it is in a woman’s cycle. The top platform is clear plastic and as Rebecca retreats behind her screen I cannot resist the urge to look down. My poor breast is smooshed out to 5.5 on the scale and appears strangely disassociated from my body.

Rebecca tells me to hold my breath and I hear the X-Ray whirr. The process is repeated on the other breast, then the Crusher is tilted to get a picture of each breast from the side and the process is again repeated. She tells me I will get the results in about a week and takes me back to the dressing room.

I walk to my car with both breasts intact; a little achy, but they are still attached to my chest and indeed a mammogram IS better than getting a pap smear. If getting a mammogram means I might be around my family longer, then it’s definitely worth it.  With a change of heart I declare the Crusher worthy of a new name.  Maybe Bear Hug or Main Squeeze.


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Everyone has at least one turning point in their life.  One epic moment when life as you know it ceases to exist and takes on a whole new era.  You begin to think of life as “Before” this and “After” that.  I have the distinct impression that my new era will be forever known as “After My First Mammogram”.

I’m 32.  At no point before last week did I ever anticipate having a mammogram before I was 40.  40 years old is the age that has been droned into our collective ears every year while the Gynecologist performs a breast exam.  40 years old.  40 years old.  40 years old.

Early this year my maternal Aunt was diagnosed during the first stages of breast cancer.  She had surgery.  It was removed.  I would pray for her at night and reiterate the age old diatribe.  When I turn 40.  When I turn 40.

This month my maternal Grandmother was diagnosed.  Yes, my Grandmother and her Daughter were both diagnosed with breast cancer within 6 months.  Again I repeat my mantra.  When I turn 40.  When I turn…  My husband interrupts with this juicy little tidbit.  “I think you should get a mammogram”.

What!!??  Me?  I don’t have to worry about that until I’m 40!  Every woman knows that.  We agree to ask my Gynecologist.  I am stunned when he agrees with my husband.  I have just been introduced to an often overlooked fact.  Breast cancer runs in families.  My Dr. urges me to get tested.  Soon.  As I am dressing I hear him in the next room dictating my office visit.  “Patient states she has a family history of breast cancer.  Have advised she receive mammogram soon and repeat every 2 years until the age of 40, then every year thereafter”.

Wow.  I’m in my early thirties and I need a mammogram.  I try to let the full weight of this sink in.  In the car I gaze at my son, not yet two, and despite my Doctor’s assurance that everything will come back normal, I am faced with every Mothers fear.  Mortality.

I head to work and attempt to organize the thoughts running around my head.  Will insurance pay for a mammogram before I’m 40?  How much does a mammogram cost?  I need to let my sister know.  She’ll need one too.

I pick up the phone and make my appointment.  “You can get me in on Friday?  Wow.  (nervous laughter) You guys sure are fast.  Well, if I can’t wear deodorant we’d better make it for first thing in the morning.”

Tomorrow the morning will dawn bright and true and I will never be the same.  My new era begins and for my breasts there will be no going back.  Tomorrow I will be initiated into the ranks of The Mammogrammed.

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