Nobody wants a mammogram. Really. I mean, it’s not like we look forward to it or anything, right?
I mean it’s a machine that squishes boobs into pancakes. There’s pushing and prodding and moving the mammaries into position. The turning of the crank as the tray comes down, down, down and flattens more what is already flattened onto the little shelf thing. You hold your breath. You wait a minute. Wait. And then the beep when the picture is taken. Ah. Release.
Then begin again. Other side. Same drill.
If you are lucky, that would be about it. Two or four big squashes and out you go on your merry way. No worse for the wear and that dreaded annual exam is over and done with. The happy gram that says “Come back in a year.”
There are naysayers about mammograms, but a mammogram at 40 is still a good thing to do. If you have dense breasts, then you need to know that too so you can get additional screenings in the form of ultrasounds or MRIs.
In the big scheme of things, your mammogram, or other screening, is one more thing to check off your list of things to do. It’s necessary. And once it’s done, you know it is one less thing to worry about doing.
So, yes, they are necessary, but I hate mammograms. I wouldn’t NOT get one, but I hate them nonetheless.
It’s not the pain. I have a pretty high threshold for that. (My ob gyn once sewed me up following six hours of natural labor. Natural labor = no anesthesia down there. She forgot and started sewing. Yeah. If I could have gotten up, I would have slugged her.)
But for me — and I know I am definitely not alone — — the annual screenings and mammograms are nerve-wracking. There are millions of others out there like me, I am sure.
It’s the cloud of uncertainty as you wait for results. It’s the fear of the other shoe dropping. A recurrence. Another cancer. The 1 in 8. The every 3 minutes.
I have already had breast cancer, and my annual screenings take extra time. I have had so many biopsies and lumpectomies, that when the radiologists are looking at my films and scans, I think they get dizzy from all the dots that show up.
There is a lot going on.
It’s been 14 years this October since I received that breast cancer diagnosis. And each year comes with more anxiety over getting my annual screening done.
This year was no different.
A few weeks ago, following my mammogram, while I was waiting to get my ultrasound (dense breasts, you know) the mammo tech came back in to let me know she needed more views.
It’s not uncommon for me. One breast is so small I feel for the techs when they take half of my rib cage with them onto the mammography machine. It’s not your fault, it is what it is, I usually say in response to the ever-present “I am sorry. I know this hurts.”
But during the ultrasound part, I lay there on the table and started fending off those shadowy “what ifs” that kept creeping up on me as the sonographer dragged her transducer slowly over my very lumpy “girls.” It was a new program, I was told, so that is why she was going slow. Really slow. I didn’t talk and neither did she.
She kept stopping on that one spot, the one that had me run to my surgeon last November. The one that turned out to be nothing. The one where my surgeon put a marker in to prove it is not really growing, but my boobs are shrinking. (Can they actually get any smaller? Seriously, junior bras from Target.)
It took a looooong time. And all while I was wondering. Why is she stopping? Why is this taking so long? What does she see? Has it grown? What will happen? I had to give myself a mental slap across the face a la Cher in Moonstruck.
Snap out of it!
And so, after an hour spent at the imaging office, the tech came back and told me I was fine to go. Everything looks good and they’ll send a copy to my surgeon. Yada yada yada.
This is my life unless or until I decide to have a double mastectomy and start over with a fresh pair of boobs. I opted for lumpectomy and radiation 14 years ago. Thankfully I did not need chemotherapy. And I didn’t need reconstruction back then.
Now, even if I wanted to get them redone — breast-feeding did take its toll on the working one — I am not willing to undergo anesthesia for a new pair. I have kids to think about. A family.
And besides, I’m chicken. Anesthesia is scary.
So, for now, I endure the nerves that creep up every year when the mammography office calls to schedule me. And every year I am damn glad when it’s over.
During the remaining days of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, schedule your mammogram. And tell someone else to do the same.
Early detection is still the best protection.