“What’s it like?” she asked, and I inhaled quietly and put down the bottle of water I was poised to drink. Then I exhaled, slow and easy. I had two options here, I thought carefully. I could attempt to be funny and make light of a situation that is, well, quite serious. I could try to scare her to death and say that it is torment at its best. Or I could be completely honest. Okay, so maybe that’s three options.
Regardless of my ability to count, I had an obligation to this woman, my friend, to answer her question. And I was about to do it. Or at least try.
Every year around Christmas I give myself a present. It’s not just for me – which is how I got through the very first time, anyway, by convincing myself that I wasn’t just doing it for myself, but for the other people who depended on me, kind of liked me, and maybe even mildly tolerated me. As I sat there waiting, pondering what I was about to encounter, I fully and completely convinced myself that what I was about to do was for the good of everyone. I was pumped up. I was ready. I was going to do this.
And then it was my turn, and all of that bravado was left in the little 12 inch wide locker, all folded up neatly with my sweater, my shirt, and my bra. Yes, I said bra.
I was getting a mammogram.
“You’re going to write about your mammogram?” someone asked me just yesterday. “I mean… you’re talking about… breasts.”
Yep. I’m talking about breasts. Boobs. Bazoogas. The Girls. I don’t care what you call them. The fact is – we have them. Girls have them and boys have them. They are a natural part of life – well, not all are completely natural, but you get what I’m trying to say. There’s nothing funny, disgusting, or offensive about breasts. Not for the most part, anyway. There are exceptions to every rule, like the woman I saw at the beach once who had tattooed scary eyes on the top of her breasts and they peeked out of her bathing suit like a Godzilla creature. That was, I admit, a little creepy. Creepy breasts.
I can only imagine what the mammogram technician thought when she saw those.
Which is the first thing about a mammogram: Don’t be worried about what the technician is going to think or say when she asks you to slide your arm out of that thin cotton gown and there is your top half in all its naked glory. Yours aren’t the first breasts she’s seen. Probably sees hundreds every week. Some a whole lot smaller than yours and some a whole lot bigger. Some are perkier… and some are, trust me, a whole lot saggier. Unless yours are extra special extraordinary with diamond accents or, yes, maybe even Godzilla eyes tattooed on them, she’s probably not going to be fazed. Just plop them out there. The sooner you do, the sooner it will be over.
The second thing about a mammogram: Just go with it. You’re already in the room. There’s this big ole’ monstrosity of a machine right there and a stranger taking your breast and putting it on this cold little ledge. You’re holding on to a handle and you might even be on your tippy toes the slightest bit. It’s not the most glamorous moment of your life, but it’s what’s gotta happen so just take a deep breath and let it be. I won’t lie, when you hear that little noise and the machine starts to squeeze down, it can be uncomfortable. It might even hurt a little. But a lot of things hurt a whole heck of a lot more. And, hey, you can always hum.
Close your eyes and hum.
“Is it your birthday?” the technician asked me a few years ago as there I stood, my left breast clamped in the mammography machine, eyes closed, humming Happy Birthday. I thought I was being quiet but I guess the pressure squeezed it out a little louder.
“No,” I squeaked at full squish. Release. Ahhhh. “It helps distract me if I hum,” I said.
She walked from behind the small partition and situated me for the other side. A little closer… that’s it… move your arm to the side a little… elbow back just a bit…turn… no, this way… that’s it…
“I get that a lot,” she said as she went back around to her computer. I closed my eyes in anticipation of the next squeeze, but this time instead of humming alone the technician hummed with me. We didn’t even get past the first “to you” and it was over. Just like that.
Before my first mammogram, I felt sure I would leave there with breasts that looked like pancakes or, at best, like they had been caught in an elevator door. Instead, I left there with the same old ones I’d brought there. It was uncomfortable, but I wasn’t traumatized. It was scary at first, but I got over it. Now I get them every year.
I don’t hum so much anymore. Instead I think about my sister, who has had breast cancer. If she can go through a mastectomy and chemotherapy and fear and pain, I can certainly go through a few minutes of discomfort. I think about my daughter, how I hope I’m setting a good example for her to have mammograms and know how important it is to get checked. And, okay, I will admit that sometimes think about the woman with the scary Godzilla eye boobs and I think that if some technician somewhere can look at those things coming at them from behind a cotton hospital gown, then mine can’t be nearly so scary.
And it makes me smile.
So, what’s it like?
It’s not so bad. Mammograms are really not so scary. Honest.
Godzilla boobs. I gotta admit, now that’s a little scary.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.