Monthly Archives: December 2010

Mammogrammatical

Branches in Birdseed Bag

Dear Reader:

I’m scheduled for my bi-annual mammogram today. I can’t say I am exactly looking forward to having my breasts x-rayed, but there is some comfort and joy knowing I am doing something positive and pro-active regarding my health.

I had my first mammogram the year I turned 40, which made me feel about as dried up and past-my-prime as bare branches on the beech trees in my front yard in November. No more the youthful sap of spring. No more the lush verdure of summer. It’ll be all dried and wrinkly leaves clinging to gnarled, cold gray branches from here on out. “Yup,” I thought. “I’ve reached that age where I’m expected to submit to tortuous medical screenings on a regular basis. Mammogram today . . . colonoscopy tomorrow.” Big sigh.

Two years ago, in my mammogravirginity, I innocently put on a happy face and, like Queen Victoria, thought of (New) England. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie_back_and_think_of_England

Yeah, right.

Did that actually work for those Victorian era brides? Because, really, when your boobs are being squished between two panels until they feel as if they are going to be torn right off your chest, it’s pretty hard to think of God and Country or anything else. When it was all over, I met a friend at my favorite coffee shop and sucked down a soy chai latte as my just reward. It was May, the sun was shining, and I’d sailed through this particular rite of passage without too much trauma.

That was then, this is now. Two years later, I’m back at the hospital. It’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten the details of the procedure. They’ve moved the registration desk, but I find it easily enough and give the receptionist my name and date of birth. Three times today I’ll tell people my date of birth. What’s up with that? Do they think I’m lying? Believe me, if I wanted to lie, I’d say I was twenty-seven or something, not forty-two and 11/12ths!

Anyway, I’m put into the elevator and taken down to the lower level where the torture devices, er, x-ray machinery is kept. The receptionist behind the protective plexi-glass sliding window (name and birth date #2) leads me into a changing area, and I’m given two garments and two packets of wipes and told to strip from the waist up, swab my underarms and breasts to get rid of any clinging clothing-fuzz (did I mention that you aren’t allowed to wear deodorant the day of your mammogram?), and put on a “gown” and the “robe.”

Let me just say, that the gown and robe have nothing to do with silk dresses and ermine cloaks. I only think of this because lately I’ve been reading Philippa Gregory’s Tudor novels, as well as watching Showtime’s THE TUDORS series on DVD. The books are wonderful, first-person narratives of a fascinating era in history. The television show rivals movie-quality cinematography, in my opinion, with its lush settings, luxurious costumes, and period detail. I recommend it for anyone 18 or older, or for teenagers whose parents are comfortable with their history-nut teens viewing some sexuality, some medieval torture, and, yes, some breasts.

Hmmm. Is anyone else seeing some parallels here?

I robe-up and step into the “woman’s waiting area” where I no sooner crack open the book I’d tucked into my purse than the door opens and it’s showtime. I’m led into the mammography room. The technician is very nice. She asks some questions (name and birth date #3. Are they kidding me?) regarding my personal medical history, my family medical history and whatnot, and I keep thinking if I could only say the right thing I wouldn’t have to submit to the machine. No luck. I’m asked to bare one breast and step right on up.

The machine is kinda like a vice-grip tipped on its side. The technician places my breast on the bottom tray, I’m told to put my hand on my hip, and then I watch the top tray descend, pressing me between the two plates like a grape in a wine press. A little more. A little more. A little . . . okay, OUCH.

Then I’m told to hold my breath. Huh. I can barely GET a breath, let alone hold it. Somehow I manage. We repeat the process on the other side. Two down, two to go.

The next set is to get some nice pictures of my muscle and lymph nodes. This time I have to put my arm around the machine and hold onto a bar. Now I’m embracing the thing? Again with the squish, squish, ouch on both sides.

“Okay, you can slip your gown and robe on while I check to make sure the images are clear,” the tech says. I sit and read about how to lose 50 pounds like “Ashley” did in an article in a worn copy of Women’s World magazine. I’m about finished, when the tech comes back in and says I can get dressed, the doctors will take a look at the x-rays, and my personal physician will be given the results. Now I look at her. Is her voice quavering? Is there anything troubled about her facial expression? Has she seen something suspicious but can’t let on?

I decide to think about it later. Not now. Tomorrow. Or whenever the results are sent to me.

Back in the changing room, I struggle for a bit with the locker, and slip back into my street clothes. The whole thing took maybe 15 minutes. I walk out past the waiting room, press the button for the elevator, stride right by the reception desk. Nobody stops me. I’m free.

Driving home, I stop for a soy chai latte to sip at home while reading about poor Anne of Cleaves and Katherine Howard (divorced and beheaded respectively by Henry VIII). Overall, I think, the mammogram experience wasn’t quite so terrible. I’m lucky to live in a time when early detection of breast cancer can save my life. What are a few minutes of embarrassment and slight pain compared to a late diagnosis and radical treatments?

I encourage each of my readers to schedule the mammograms your doctor suggests. Remind your mothers, sisters, and friends to go ahead and do self-exams every month. For more information about mammograms, check out http://womenshealth.gov/faq/mammograms.cfm. Consider donating to the American Cancer Society. Close your eyes and think . . . of courageous, strong, determined women who are battling breast cancer. Send out a prayer or request to the universe for them today.