Last week I had my annual mammogram and I’m happy to report that I received the “all clear” from the radiologist. Although it’s gotten better over the past few years, my anxiety levels tend to hit the roof when it comes time to go. There’s something about a test that looks for CANCER that freaks me out…CANCER a.k.a. The Big C…they are essentially looking to see if I have a disease that could, potentially, kill me.
I make the appointment a year in advance and then, as the day gets closer, I start to get jittery. My mind races with excuses as to why I need to reschedule, “too busy at work…can’t take the time….I have laundry that needs to be done…I need to pick up grapes for Field Day at school…” I can think of a million reasons that I’m too busy to go, but I have one four-foot-eleven reason to get it done…my son.
I don’t have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m immune. At 46, I’ve known four women in my age group (plus or minus a few years) who have battled the disease – and have made amazing recoveries – and only one of the women has tested positive for the BRCA gene or had any family history of breast cancer. A few weeks ago, Angelina Jolie announced in a New York Times editorial, that she underwent a radical mastectomy because she had the gene and was at a very high risk for developing breast cancer. In my opinion, hers was a very brave choice. This is not an easy surgery or recovery and I cannot imagine the agonizing decision that she had to make.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of getting a mammogram done, it’s a very weird experience that’s designed to make the unpleasant, less unpleasant, or at the very least, tolerable. I’ve had 8 of them throughout the years, at three different “women’s imaging centers” and the process is basically the same. You check in, avoid eye contact with the other middle-aged women, survey the overtly- feminine-rose-colored walls and framed impressionist prints of women in flowing frocks, and wait your turn to be called. When you are, you’re led to a row of private changing rooms where you’re given a waist length hospital gown and told to change, “with the opening to the front.” Then you sit in another waiting room piled with trashy celebrity magazines geared toward drawing your attention away from the task at hand. Few of the women speak to each other, occasionally nervous smiles are exchanged.
Then you’re called into the room. The technicians are professionally distant and, at the same time, authentically kind – clearly they realize that this is the LAST thing you’d like to be doing. They update your medical history, chat about the weather, and then manually manipulate your breasts between two plates with their latex-gloved hands. When you’re properly positioned, the tech will move behind a protective screen, remotely tighten the plates just a little bit more so that you’re boobs are about the depth of a pancake, tell you to hold your breath and not to move (as if you could with your ta-tas in that vice-like clamp), and take the “pictures.” Then you do it all over again on the other side. Then you do it again…vertically. Good times. At least the discomfort (you can’t really call it “pain” it’s more of a really severe pinch) takes your mind off the fact that they are checking your boobs for CANCER.
Just when you think you’re finished, they drop the bomb on you…the radiologist doesn’t read the results then and there – they’re read in the morning and you’ll be called by 11am if they need to see you again. Wait…I need to wait 24 hours to know if there are any suspicious images on my mammogram? Yes. And don’t bother asking the tech any questions – she is quick to remind you that she is not a radiologist and can’t tell you if she sees anything out of the ordinary. So you go back to the changing room and then slip out the door, relieved that it’s over for another year…hopefully.
The next morning after dropping “A” off at school, I ran to the market to pick up a few things before heading into the office and then scooted home to put the food in the ‘fridge. Looking at the phone, I noticed that the orange light on the answering machine is blinking ominously. Sh#t!! Anxiously, I pushed the playback button… Can I just say that I have never been happier to receive a robo-sales call for lower credit card rates in my life.
Yes, it’s anxiety-provoking and somewhat unpleasant, but it’s a relief to know that everything is ok with “the girls” so I can get back to focusing on all the good things in life, like my boys.