The Mammogram

A few days ago I went to get my first mammogram.  My grandmother had breast cancer and those who have a family history are recommended to get their first screening in their mid 30’s.  Ok, so I’m old enough to get a mammogram.  Ug.  

I made an appointment and went in.  I ended up going to get the mammogram in a place that was a breast cancer treatment and research center.  The staff there was so overwhelmingly sweet and nice.  I entered the lobby and was immediately warmly greeted.  I was offered water as I waited in the waiting room.  Then I was called in and very very nice lady came and got me.  She asked if it was my first mammogram and I said yes.  She told me not to be nervous and she’d go over everything that needed to happen.  I was shown to a small changing room.  There were robes and lockers in it.  She told me to undress from the waist up and put the robe on, and put all of my belongings in a locker and keep the key in the robe pocket.  I did this and she was waiting for me in another small waiting room when I got out.  

She led me to the room with the big machine meant to squash and scan breasts.  She told me to take one arm out of the robe and position myself to the machine and set my right breast on the machine and hold my arm up on the top of the machine so that my boob could stay in there.  A machine squashed it between two paddles.  The lady tightened it into place.  I actually expected it to hurt more.  It really wasn’t that bad.  She went over to the side of the machine to begin scanning in that position.  I was told not to breathe for about 4 seconds while it scanned.  It wasn’t that bad.  She moved the machine and paddles to two more angles and repeated the scan.  Then I swapped arms and did my left boob.  Pretty painless.  The lady was so nice.  She cheerily told me “That’s it, you are done!  One big step for womanhood!” and I got to go home.  I felt good.  It was nice to feel like I was being proactive with my health. It’s good to get a baseline mammogram.   

The next day I got a message from my doctor: “I need to speak with you, please call me as soon as you can”  Deep breath, ok.  I called her back, she wasn’t immediately available and I had to leave a message.  I turned up my phone ringer volume and stuck it in my pocket.  I was just going to calmly wait, don’t freak out.  I went to my bedroom and took off my top and immediately started doing a self breast exam.  I laid on my bed with my arm up and started scrutinizing every square centimeter of my boobs.  I didn’t really feel anything unusual, but started to think maybe my two boobs didn’t feel exactly the same.  I have been told by doctors in the past that I have fibrous breast tissue.  My right boob seemed to feel a little more fibrous than the left, is that normal?  What does that mean?  Is that how cancer starts?  I never felt anyone else’s boobs before, so it’s not like I really have a lot to compare with.  

Within 15 minutes my doctor called me back.  She told me that some of the images of my right breast were a little difficult to read and it could be fibrous tissue, but they need to send me back for an ultrasound.  I scheduled the ultrasound the next day.  Ok, it’s probably nothing, I thought.  Surely I can’t actually have breast cancer.  Can I?  Nah.  Can I?  Nah, just stop thinking about it and go to get the ultrasound tomorrow.  

I told my boyfriend about it.  He was really nice.  “Nah, no way…  I feel those titties all the time and they feel healthy to me.”  He tried to make me feel better, he told me that it was really good that I scheduled the mammogram to begin with and it’s great to check things like that.  He did make me feel better.  

Still there was some nagging, spinning, circling thoughts:  Could I really have it?  People do get it, you know.  My whole life could be turned upside down.  Shit, I was thinking my right boob felt different, and that’s the one they said needs to be rechecked.  Maybe what I’m feeling is cancer.  I like my right boob better than my left boob.  What if I need to get it removed?  Should I get implants?  Should I get a big cool looking tattoo over the scar site?  If it’s there I hope it is caught in time so that I don’t die.  What if I’m only given 3 years to live?  What if it’s even less?  Oh my god, RELAX.  Just fucking chill, dude.  Just go to the appointment tomorrow.  

I went back to the breast cancer and research center the next day.  It was really crowded.  The lady at reception was so nice.  I checked in at the front and looked around the lobby.  The entire waiting area was jam packed, I only saw one chair available.  I asked a middle aged lady with curly brown hair who was next to the chair if it was taken, she said no.  I noticed that the lady had bloodshot eyes.  I sat down next to her, she was with another older lady with long grey hair who sat on her other side.  “It’s really crowded here today.”  I said.  “Yeah, that sure is unfortunate.” said the gray haired lady.  The brown haired lady sniffed and said nothing, but she stared at me with a mix of suffering and compassion.  I could tell she was wondering if I had been diagnosed with cancer.  She had a horribly pained expression on her face and it was obvious that she was having one of the worst days of her life.  

I looked around the waiting room.  Jeez there were a lot of people.  I wondered how many of them had cancer.  I picked up a brochure and looked at it.  The brochure contained lists of free classes available to people undergoing treatment for breast cancer.  There were yoga classes, cooking classes, dance classes and support groups.  There were meetings and classes for people who were newly diagnosed and meetings and classes for people with advanced stage cancer.  There were support meetings for men whose women were undergoing treatment for breast cancer.  I thought these were all good things to offer.  

The staff called people from the waiting room back cheerily and joked with people.  A nurse came and got the brown haired lady and the grey haired lady with her and took them to the back.  I waited a little longer.  

Finally a very nice nurse called my name.  I followed her to the changing room area.  She looked at me and smiled.  “Looks like we invited you back here again, huh?”  I got my robe on and locked up my stuff and made my way to the other small waiting room.  The brown and grey haired ladies were there.  The grey haired lady was wearing a robe and the brown haired lady wasn’t.  The brown haired lady’s face was pinched and swollen, her nose was running and her eyes were puffy and red.  I didn’t dare speak to them because I figured the brown haired lady would burst into tears at any moment.  She stared at me.  Her eyes bored into me.  I looked away.  

The staff called her companion to the back to get tests.  She was gone a long time.  I waited.  There was a Mexican woman seated in the room to my right and she was having a conversation with an interpreter.  The interpreter was explaining how procedures worked, but was also joking and telling stories and both women were laughing.  It was nice to see how nice the staff was to everyone.  I could see from the corner of my eye the brown haired lady staring intently at me and also at the Mexican lady. The grey haired lady came back to the waiting room and sat silently sat down.  Within a minute a chipper nurse came back for her:  “we are going to need to borrow you again, c’mon and I’ll show you why, but we need to get some images farther back.”  The grey haired lady followed the nurse and I saw the brown haired lady’s face contort with newfound pain.  She seemed to disappear into her self.  

I got called to diagnostic area.  A very friendly nurse looked at me directly in the eye with a caring face “I’m Beth and I’ll be doing your ultrasound today.”  I followed her to the ultrasound room which was right around the corner from the waiting room.  I laid on a table and got my right arm out of the robe as directed.  Beth told me that ultrasound may be enough diagnostic to figure out what we need to know, but it is possible we may need more mammogram views today too, but there is a doctor here to read the ultrasound images and she will read them while I wait so that I can know right away.  I thought that was awesome.  I laid on the table and stared at the lights which had images of the sky and tree branches and I could almost pretend I was outside on a pleasant day laying in the grass.  The ultrasound didn’t take long.  Beth left the room for a moment and I still laid there because it was nice.  When she came back into the room she didn’t shut the door and I knew what she said could be heard by people in the waiting room.  She told me the ultrasound showed fibrous tissue and that my breast appeared healthy and that I should get my next mammogram when I’m 40.  

I felt so relieved.  I walked out of the room and saw that the brown haired lady had heard what Beth told me.  She looked at me with a happy yet tragic expression on her face.  I could tell that she was happy for me, she was relieved that I didn’t have to have breast cancer too.  She also looked deeply pained and saddened to her core at the same time.  Her expression pierced directly into my soul.  I walked past her quickly and got dressed.  As I got dressed emotions overwhelmed me.  I left the building by walking a long way around the waiting room to avoid the brown haired lady.  I couldn’t bear to look at her or have her look at me again.  I started to cry.  I felt lucky.  I could walk out of here and go and live my normal life, cancer free.  There are others who cannot.  I want to make the most of my time here on earth.  You never know when that time can be taken away.