June 18, 2015 at 9am. That’s when I’m scheduled for my first mammogram. I’ve told my doctor that I’m ready to do it. It’s on the List. I will face this fear that practically everyone I know has faced with about as much anxiety as getting a pedicure. To me, it has always loomed as a doorway into cancer, and what Anne Lammot calls the “land of the fucked”. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to take my family there.
When I call to schedule an appointment, the receptionist takes my name and birthday. “Where have you had your previous mammograms?” she asks.
“This is my first mammogram.”
“Ohhhh.” It’s one word, but her tone says so much more. I’ve been bad. Very bad. Maybe, if anybody reads this they will think the same thing. That mammograms are recommended starting at 40, so waiting 10 years means that I’ve been outrageously irresponsible.
Fair enough. I have three reasons why I haven’t had a mammogram. I will say up-front that all these reasons are horrible, terrible fear-based reasons. But this blog is about my fears so I’m going to be honest. Here goes:
First, there’s the pain of mammograms. I wish I could give attribution to this line, but I read (years ago, somewhere) that if you want to know what a mammogram feels like, just go out to your garage, lie down on the ground, and let the garage door slam down on your boob. Hilarious, right? But it’s helped keep me away from mammograms for a decade!
Second, false positives. Recent reports that many women are given false positives on mammograms has kept me away. Why? Because bad news would really mess with my head…even if it turned out to be all just a big mistake. These false positives don’t just result in more garage-door-slamming tests, they result in biopsies. I mean, actual surgical, cutting-and-taking-of-tissue operations. And in the meantime, absolute abject terror that the news is bad and that everything that was, is over. Game changer.
And finally, the boobs-as-enemy thing. When I think about mammograms, I think about breast cancer. And when I think about breast cancer my attitude about my breasts morphs. I go from love and happiness and appreciation for this part of my womanly/motherly/sexy self to this creeping fearful worry that this part of me will be my undoing. That they might harbor a disease that will take me down. It ruins all the fun of having breasts!
I’m sorry if reading this has made you mad at me. If it makes you feel any better, I am getting a mammogram on Thursday.
Update: So I got my mammogram and everything is fine. Whew!
Once again, Susie was with me, distracting me from my dark thoughts in the waiting room, cracking me up while we waited for results, and complimenting me on the stylish wrap I fashioned out of the puce cape I had to wear. Thank you, Susie!
Here’s what I learned. Mammograms do not feel like a garage door slamming down on your boob. They feel more like getting your boob play-doughed onto a piece of glass and then squeezed like the marshmallow in a s’more. Does having your boob s’mored feel good? No. But worse has been done to me by toddlers jockeying for position during read-alouds, believe me!
And about those false positives. I’m really glad I didn’t get one, but I have to admit that there’s something very very good about having a baseline. I’m glad to know that the next mammogram will measure only what has cropped up since the last mammogram.
And boobs-as-enemy? Well, big thanks to my mammogram tech, Kim, at Pac Med. She was completely awesome about making me laugh, offering to get me results while I waited, and sharing with me that she got into this line of work because mammograms scared her! I know, small world, right?