Step Up to the Plate: It's October and YOU Need a Mammogram
(You want to do what to my what?)
I knew what to expect when I showed up at the hospital for my first mammogram. My doc had been pushing me for months, and I had talked to countless women who'd had them.
(Tell me every detail. Does it hurt? Do they get their shape back?)
But when the time came, even armed with all kinds of information, I still couldn't believe what they wanted to do to my breasts — those modestly sized, delightfully sensitive extensions of myself that had fed my daughter, and that center my sexuality, often giving my husband something to do with his hands when ... well, never mind.
The receptionist in "mammo" takes my information, hands me a gown and tells me to disrobe from the waist up. She also tries to put my mind at ease.
"The worst part is the anxiety beforehand. Everybody is nervous. And, yes, they do bounce right back," she says, reading my mind.
My appointment is for 11 a.m. By 11:15, I already feel compromised. It doesn't help that I'm standing here in a hospital gown. At least I have my pants on. And the room is kind of pretty. All pastels and soft lighting.
Next, the tech comes in and explains that I'll be stepping up to the mammography machine and placing my right breast on a platform — a thought that immediately sends me into a good 30 seconds of nervous giggles.
(I always thought I'd be placed on a pedestal some day, but this isn't exactly what I had in mind.)
Then she'll use a foot pedal to slowly clamp the plastic plates above and below my breast to flatten it out.
"Not flat like a pancake," she assures me. "More like a balloon that's been pushed down."
(Lady, you distinctly said "flatten.")
"Dr. D mentioned on your file that you have dense breasts," she says, referring to the gynecologist who insisted I have the mammogram. "Sometimes that makes it harder to get a clear image. But you should be OK."
(Yeah, he did tell me my breasts are dense. I didn't know what he meant; I just took it as a compliment.)
"Ten days after the end of your period is the best time to get this done. It hurts less," the tech says.
(OK, at least my timing is good. Wait ... what? Hurts?)
I follow her instructions and step up to the plate, so to speak. She puts things in their proper place and battens down the hatches. I'm feeling panicky. It doesn't seem normal, and I want out.
OK, I'm ignoring the pressure and that tiny twinge of pain. Not in my breast itself, but underneath where the machine is tugging. I'm ignoring the feel of cold plastic against my skin and thinking instead of silk camisoles, a lover's breath and the warm sun on that beach in Greece a lifetime ago. Things that make breasts happy.
And then, it's over. A little discomfort, no real pain. The compression lasts all of about 10 seconds. That was the front view. Now, there's a side view to be taken.
(What is this — a mug shot? Who's being booked, me or my breasts? And what are the charges? Defying the laws of gravity? I wish. Am I the only one who thinks that's funny?)
Having a mammogram will never be a pleasant experience, but if you get yourself into the right frame of mind, you can relax, even laugh, right up to the moment the machine clamps down on you. Then you grit your teeth and curse the gene that made you a woman. Until, mere seconds later, you're free again. And your breast, though still a little ticked off, is downright ecstatic.
Then, of course, you remember you have two.
In this case, the left X-ray goes just as smoothly, and the whole study is done in less than 15 minutes. Afterwards, I'm watching a self-exam how-to narrated by Rita Moreno and Meryl Streep, and sipping peppermint tea in my gown when a doc comes in to tell me I have "fine breasts."
(Not exactly the scenario I would have wanted to hear that in, and I know you're talking specifically about the insides but, hey, I'll take it.)
"You take a good picture," she says.
(All right, now, are you pulling my leg?)
No, she's serious. It's a clear image, so I don't have to go back under the clamp. And most importantly, there are no masses. I'll have to wait for my doc's final reading, but things look good.
Even from the outside, my poor battered breasts don't look any worse for wear. And they've plumped right back up to their pre-compression loveliness.
(I can think of one person who'll be glad of that.)
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Do yourself and the people who love you a favor and take care of your breasts. For the record, that means doing more than buying them lacy bras. It means eating right, exercising and doing regular breast self-exams. And if you're over 40, don't be a boob ... get a mammogram.