In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness, I thought I’d share an older piece I wrote. Please share if you feel so inclined.
The Mammogram Experience
One of my summer rituals is going to the gyno for my yearly check-up, and then following up with a mammogram. About a month ago, the day had finally arrived for the annual event. There are so many things to worry about on this day. What do I wear that is easy to get on and off? I almost wore a dress, but then realized I would be unnecessarily naked for my mammogram. Shorts – I need shorts. What shoes should I wear so my feet don’t stink. Seriously, that’s a thing. How long will I have to sit there covered only by a sheet before the doctor wanders in?
I won’t go into the details about the gyno visit because that’s just gross. Who really wants to hear about the stirrups, rubber gloves, and the cold, metal devices? I will only say that when I am in that very humiliating position, I always wonder what makes someone choose to become a gyno? As my doctor is examining me, I am suspiciously looking at him thinking What kind of person are you to want to do this every day?
Next, it is time to go across the road for my mammogram. Since many of you haven’t experienced this, I thought you should know what it’s like. First of all, I am certain that as a petite person, my experience varies from that of a normal-sized woman. This particular breast center has tried to create a spa-like atmosphere, and I appreciate the soothing colors, comfy furniture, and trickling fountains. Once we are called back, we are ushered into a nice dressing room to undress from the waist up and put on a pink, fluffy robe. No paper vests here. We then move on to the “Robe Room.” It’s quite nice really. All of us just sitting around in our pink fluffy robes looking through out-dated magazines.. Occasionally I say a little prayer that everyone has secured their robes so nothing falls out.
And then I hear my name. The mammo lady guides me back to the semi-dark room with the imposing machine, the vice if you will. It is about to get real. She maneuvers me up to the vice, asks me to take one arm out of the robe, and proceeds to manhandle me. Seriously, her arms are everywhere; I don’t know how to stand because it’s awkward as hell; and she is trying to get my little boob in that vice. This is tricky. Mammo lady begins, “Turn your toes that way, but your shoulders this way, put your chin up, and your arm over there.” What? And I am petite. This is no lie, in order to get the required goods into that vice, I swear she pulls skin from my belly and neck. My entire midsection is trapped in that damn vice. And then she begins cranking it closed. Tighter and tighter it pulls all my skin. It is so tight my knees no longer sag. Then she looks me in the eye, gives me a little smile, and gives one more turn. Crap! I am now hanging from this machine by my boob. I am certain the vice is cutting off circulation, and soon my boob will fall off.
She casually walks over to her computer area as I am on my tippy toes trying not to fall because, really, if I did fall, I’d rip my boob off. And then she says, “When I count to three, stop breathing until I tell you you can breathe again.” Shit. I stopped breathing five minutes ago. I have one arm on top of the machine, the other dangling at my side, I am twisted up like a contortionist, and now I have to continue to hold my breath.
The machine begins to make a whirring noise. It oh so slowly makes a revolution while capturing pictures of my neck and belly skin. My neck is pulled so tightly I begin to feel like I am suffocating. And then she says to relax. Sure. Relax. Until you grab up all the skin from the other side. She releases me, and starts over on the left side. One would think I’d have it down by now, but it is no better. The arms. The toes. The neck skin. The twisting and turning and smashing. This is not the spa experience they make it appear to be. This is a medieval torture device. It’s 2017; there has to be a better way.
Mammo lady finally gets the left side of my body into her vice. Crank. Crank. And just one more…crank. I am now secured in the machine, again on my tippy toes. Deep breaths; now hold my breath. I can do this. I’ve survived childbirth three times, and the teenage years with three daughters. I can survive this machine. Just hang on to that machine, keep my balance, and do not think about all the skin clamped in. And…we’re done. Mammo lady releases me, and although smashed, everything appears to be in place. My skin slowly begins to return to its intended position as I do neck stretches and arm circles. Until next year, Mammo Lady!
Early detection is so very important in the fight against breast cancer. Men and young people, though necessary, mammograms are not something the women in your lives look forward to. To make it more pleasant, you could have chocolate and wine waiting for us upon our return. And, husbands, please keep your hands to yourselves on mammo day.