Friday, June 26, 2009

Liveblogging my Mammogram

I thought I'd liveblog my screening mammogram this morning.

I've got my appointment early, so I'm dosing up with a couple Advil. I wish someone had taught me the Advil thing when I started having orthodontic work. I may have been a little stupider than most, but since I had my first "appliance" installed when I was 7, I don't think it's shocking that I didn't know to take something ahead of time. And my parents' response was pretty much, "Stop whining! The orthodontist says it doesn't hurt." Can I just say, anyone who thinks that having your bones moved around in your face doesn't hurt needs to have some bones moved themselves.

I think women would be a lot less hesitant about? inclined against? mammograms if they involved, say, recreational drugs. If I could go in sloshed, maybe I wouldn't find the whole thing so... Or better yet, if I could get good and high, I'd probably even enjoy the experience. I could contemplate my increasing sagginess along with dog tails and the meaning of life. Maybe the mammogram center should provide special brownies instead of offering coffee? It would certainly ease my stress levels.

On the other hand, if I were drunk or high, and the technician weren't, then I'm guessing I'd be really irritating, and I hesitate to irritate someone with a vise on my breast. And if the technician were drunk, I'd be even more hesitant.

The mammogram center. Does there have to be so much effing pink? And flowers! It's "country crap" to the point that I'm going into saccharine shock. How is this supposed to make me comfortable? (Where are the special brownies?) (It would really suck to be a male and have to come here.) Doilies on the arms of the chairs. Doilies.

The waiting women all look at each other with that "does she have cancer" and "I hope I don't have cancer" look. Fear mixed with sympathy mixed with curiousity. No one talks.

I get called in by my real name, which I hate and don't use, and so don't recognize right off because I'm not quite checked in yet even though I arrived 8 minutes early because my insurance changed. And oops, yes, that is me, I guess. Only an idiot doesn't recognize her name. I should really change it to what I use and be done with what I detest.

The changing area's got room for about 12 women to change all at once, and little wood cabinet looking "lockers" that don't actually lock. The technician starts to tell me I should bring my purse with me, but then realizes that I don't have a purse. Already, I am failing the tests.

And so I take off my t-shirt and bra, and put on the stupid half gown thing, with pink pastel tiny flowers. I'm supposed to clean off any deodorant, but I knew that from before and didn't use any after my shower. The other woman in this waiting room has a purse the size of Kansas and looks as nervous as I feel. And then I wait for the technician person to come get me to go to the mammogram room.

She sticks on paste ons, one for each nipple, with a little metal ball on it. Humiliation. I can't help thinking about Gypsy, which is as much as I know about stripping, and as much as I want to know (I was in the pit orchestra in high school). At least there aren't tassles. I have this skin tag, so I get a different paste on for that, too.

The technician's giving me this look. The thing is, I'm a mammal. I have body hair. And unlike some women, I choose not to shave my body hair. So the look, yeah, because in our culture, choosing not to shave means a woman's despicable and dirty. So, yeah, the look, but no comment. I really want this person manhandling my breasts into the vise. Not.

Test your patriarchal reaction: when you read that just now, did you think, "eww"? Did you think "mammal"?

Or did you think, "shaving has nothing to do with the patriarchy. I shave because I like scraping my flesh with a really sharp blade"?

If you're female, and you shave, have you ever thought about not shaving? Because if three people do it, three, can you imagine? They may think it's an organization. And can you, can you imagine 50 people a day, I said 50 people... and friends, they may think it's a movement.

If it weren't for my mammalness, of course, I wouldn't need a mammogram. If I were avian, I wouldn't be here this morning. Even without pot, I wish I were a kestrel and busy flying around and eating bugs this morning. I could devour my time and not languish in his slow-chapt power.

(Pathetically, I considered shaving my pits just for this, as I will consider shaving my legs and pits for my well-woman exam in a couple weeks. I can't escape the patriarchy in my own mind, even.)

At this point, I'm wishing I'd cancelled the appointment or never made it. But, as I'm told, "as we get older blah blah blah" so I'm supposed to do all this preventative stuff.

The "as we get older" thing is hitting hard this morning, because I heard yesterday that Michael Jackson died of a heart attack or something. NPR was on about it over and over this morning. Jackson was just a bit older than I (and a bazillion times more talented in so many ways). Usually I think of heart attacks and all being something that happens to people who are considerably older than I am, but now that's changing. Mortality is on my mind.

The thing is, a heart attack seems like it would be fairly fast, and that seems good, compared to all sorts of things that kill slowly with a lot of pain. I'm really not good at pain. Back to the kestrel again.

Right first, top down squish, hold still with my neck craning, and my feet twisted, and don't breath. I don't think I could breath without pain, must less move for real. Seriously, I'm pinned to the world by my right breast (pinned, but not wriggling on a wall, not sprawling, certainly, and alas, not etherised). Where are the recreational drugs? And why isn't Advil stronger?

Have you ever noticed when you're standing and supposed to not breath or not move, you become super aware of all the tiny movements your leg muscles make just keeping you balanced? Please don't make this blurry because I don't want to be mashed any more.

Meanwhile, the questions about family history and such. Oops, I almost missed one. It can't be as bad as not recognizing my name.

Now we do the left breast. Equally uncomfortable.

Then we get the slant view, right breast first. This is when the whole saggy overweight thing is more of a problem, because really, not pleasant. I get to hold one out of the way. There's something especially awkward about holding my breast in front of someone I'm not intimate with. It's a slab of meat, but culturally, it's not.

Rinse and repeat on the other side. And then wait to see if the images look clear enough. Clear enough doesn't actually mean good or bad, so of course I'm trying to read the technician's face; I guess that anyone with the training to do this can tell a really scary mammogram when she sees it, but of course she isn't allowed to tell. But that doesn't stop me from staring because I'm really scared.

Then she wants another view of my right breast, a different view. I try to think about what that means. What I think of is really bad. Or it's just my fat in the way. Or bad. I want to throw up there in the room. But she doesn't say anything commital.

I'm not sure why I should be scared, but I am. I've felt it in my gut for the past two days, growing, making food taste wrong, making the inside of my nose itch. I didn't sleep last night.

Now there's the joy of taking off the paste ons; it hurts. Why they put industrial adhesive on my nipples, I can't say, but ouch.

She takes me back to the changing room and gives me the call back handout, the flowery thing with the number to call back if I get called back. Logically, I know from the stack that everyone gets one. But after the extra view, I don't feel logical.

Then I get to change again. The mammogram center provides little deodorant thingies, which the technician offers me as if I really, really need one for my disgusting dirtiness. I used one of the thingies once (the year before last, I think), and it smelled like really nasty fabric softener. So I'm not going to use it. I'll just have to stink if I stink.

So now I wait.

The form says that the radiologist will read my mammogram this afternoon, but the technician says maybe Monday, so I should hear next week if I need more views.

I'm lucky, and haven't had any problems with mammograms before, but luck can change.

Our culture does this huge thing about how scary breast cancer is, and how we have to get mammograms every year after a certain age, and then when you worry people say not to worry because it's usually nothing. There's a disconnect there. The level of fear the whole pink ribbon thing works up doesn't go away because someone says it's usually nothing.

It's 8:30 am, and I'm thinking that I could go buy some bourbon at the store and start in. It would ease my anxiety, maybe, for a little while. And then I'd feel crappy. Instead, I call a friend and leave a message, telling her that my bike is inviting her bike out to play.

Besides, I wouldn't be able to type a fake liveblogging thing. Seriously, it seems like that could be pretty irritating to the technician, and I think I've mentioned that it seemed just a tad unwise to irritate someone who's going to put my breasts in a vise a couple times each. So, no, I didn't take my laptop in and type while she pressed my breasts.


  1. This is definitely not something I'm looking forward to. Ugh. My sympathies.

    As for the hair thing... I have several friends who don't shave, and I myself don't shave regularly. The group of women I hang out with talk about the others who don't shave like they're gross. I guess they haven't noticed that I am not a regular shaver. I haven't stopped all together because I don't like being conspicuous, but I do like wearing tank tops and shorts on super hot days (there aren't many where I live). And, you know, I don't want to be judged by these other women. (For the record, I don't think they are horrible, awful women; they just don't want to let go of what they grew up with.) I would prefer not to shave, but I lack the confidence to give it up entirely, or even to admonish the women who judge the women who don't shave. My husband doesn't care one way or another, so that's positive. At least he's not patriarchal -- unlike a lot of my women friends. Why is it that women uphold the patriarchy more than men sometimes?

  2. advil's a good idea.

    so true about the cognitive dissonance of be afraid / oh i'm sure it's nothing. my people have lumpy breasts, so i had gotten the whole "lalalala it's nothing" thing down to a science. then my sister was diagnosed with stage II cancer. then my mammo was unclear, and i had to come back for extra squeezing plus a sonogram. then they said 2 small cysts, it's probably nothing, come back in 6 months -- and oh, it's a Diagnostic mam so you need a referral. ugh. on the up side, nobody has suggested a biopsy so far...

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  4. Wow, it's like you read my mind at my last mammogram...good to know that others have similar thought processes!

    I always end up thinking about how, with all the technological advances in the world, they'd be able to come up with a machine that doesn't require the squishing. Sigh.

    Anyway, great post.

  5. I'd never thought of the Advil, but that's a great idea. On the other hand, I've never been given pasties for my nipples. Hmmm.

    And yes, shaving is about patriarchy. As is waxing... I didn't shave my underarms for many many years, and then started again, I'm not sure why. Partly because I started wearing tank tops, I think. I think fashion is also part of it, though, and even in my feminist paradise, there would be fashion. (It might be different, but it would be there!)

  6. Anonymous9:01 AM

    Such a treat reading this:I hate those damned things, but dutifully go each year (especially after a year when I was called back in for more "views").

    But what are the pasties? I don't get those (not that they sound exactly pleasant): are they to protect the nipples?

    And about the hair: the last time I went in the technician looked at my breasts, then up at me and said accusingly: "Have you lost a lot of weight??" I said, yes, but how can you tell since I've never met you before? (I've been running competitively since last year, and the boobs, girls, are the first to go). She responded, "I can tell because you have breast flab!"

    Breast flab. Yet another thing to be ashamed about, eh?

  7. Anonymous12:38 PM

    I thought: Wow, someone else who doesn't shave! And then...yeah, I get that reaction, too. And then...actually, I've been really pleased by the lack of reaction my midwives have had to my body hair. Nice.

    and skin tags. i have that, too.

  8. I really liked this piece, Bardiac. Well written. Open. Honest. Almost naked.

    I'm impressed.

  9. Hmmm...I've never really thought about that, I think that technician must have been really odd. Some women shave and some don't, probably more don't than you think, especially if you are in a moderately multicultural place. And lots of women come in from nursing homes or whatever, not shaved at all. And even people who do shave regularly, well, most don't get to the hospital exactly prepared...and don't shave while they're there.

    Seriously, I don't shave for doctors and don't think twice about stripping unshaved, because really, I don't think that anyone cares...and I've done a lot of breast exams including armpit lymph nodes on women who shave and who don't and it's never crossed my mind to think one way or the other about it. I've never heard a doctor, nurse, or technician ever comment about body hair, male or female (and believe me, we make PLENTY of comments about patients).

    I would hate the girly decor and gowns though.

    Interesting post of a type you don't usually do. Nice to see the change, another side of things.

  10. I go to a place where the radiologist comes back to give you your results before you leave. I hat the idea that women have to wait for their results - its such an anxiety-provokin event.

    Nice post!

  11. Great post! But if I were you, I'd shop around for a better practice. A mammogram does not have to be this stressful.

    I switched doctors last year, and what a difference! At my new doctor's office, everyone knows my name, and they provide plenty of privacy--private dressing room, no sitting around in drafty hallways while wearing hospital gowns. Their lab people take my blood without pain and without poking my arm 17 times, and their mammograms are significantly less painful than the ones I got from my previous doctor's office. I don't know how they do it, but they do.

    Which makes me wonder: why did I put up with so much pain for so long when it really wasn't necessary? And why didn't anyone tell me what I was missing?

  12. Fie, Yep, we women can be really nasty about policing other women. Alas.

    Kathy A. I'm sorry to hear about the cysts. I hope everything works out with minimal pain and problems. /comfort. Best wishes for your sister, too.

    Ink, Thanks for the kind words. :)

    Susan, Yes, Advil or whatever seems to help (but don't trust a Shakespearean about this sort of thing!)

    Annieem, I think the paste on things have a little metal bit so that the person reading the mammogram can tell where your nipples are. I assume that's important to know, and maybe it's not easy once there's a certain level of sag? The paste on for the skin tag was, according to the technician, to let the reader know that there's something on the outside, so if there's some anomoly, they have a better idea what it is.

    It's harsh to have to worry about breast flab, especially if you've lost weight because you've been exercising lots and all.

    Anastasia, I'm glad to hear your midwives are accepting :) I bet it makes things less stressful.

    J. Harker, Thanks :) Kind of you to say.

    MSILF, Cultural diversity here means there are three kinds of Lutheran. At least that's how it seems. The midwest is just weird. But maybe I read her look wrong and you're totally right!

    TBTAM, Wow, that would be less stressful, for sure!

    Bev, That's an interesting suggestion; the clinic seems fairly friendly, but in a midwest way. And this mammogram center is the one my friends in the area suggested when I moved as the best around the community.

    Thanks, all :)

  13. thanks, bardiac. i know in my mind that tiny little cysts are usually nothing; my risk is higher with my sister's diagnosis, but risk doesn't equal doom.

    TBATM, i only got results right away when i had to go back for a more detailed re-check, during a time they had a radiologist on site -- not that i saw a radiologist, mind you, the good news came from the sonographer. after the initial mam in january, they did not even send me the results, just told me i had to come back in. my own doc is wonderful and read them to me, but talk about stress. also, wtf about not giving me the report?

    now, i'm told the mam and imaging center will no longer have radiologists on site at all. have to go to the hospital next time, an event i'm trying to schedule. to get the order approved by insurance, some clerk read me the exact language my doctor needed to put in the order [my doc's first order wasn't good enough], making sure i spelled it correctly, but she of course could not tell me what a particular term meant.

    the actual boob-squashing is no problem at all compared to the hoop-jumping, in my opinion. the equipment nowadays is vastly superior to a decade or so ago -- it's not cold and doesn't have hard edges! it adjusts! instant computerized images! but this next time, assuming i get scheduled one of these days, i'm emboldened to [a] not worry about shaving, and [b] corner the radiologist i've been promised and wring some information out of him/her.

  14. Good for you for going through with it all. Fear during it all is a natural result of having to stop and think about what it all means, I think. You need bravery to go through with a mammo, really.

    Mammograms are not nearly as bad as surgery, though, take it from me. I'm not sure if you knew but I was diagnosed with breast cancer about 4 years ago, and had two surgeries; one on one side to remove suspicious lumps and the other on the other side to clean out an infected cyst. Mammograms hadn't actually detected any cancer, but a biopsy of tissue from the infected cyst did indeed show cancer. Radiation followed; a six-week daily regimen of going through the whole process similar to a mammo but more naked and more ill-making. Let me say though that radiation techs are WAY more sensitive and kind than any mammo techs I've had.

    So here I am 4 years later (so far clean, thank god) and I now need to have not only mammos done but MRI's due to my increased risk and increased scar tissue (the mammos can't see well through scar tissue, so you either get them doing an ultrasound or an MRI). Love our barbaric health care system; each year I have to fight the insurance people to get that MRI the docs say is necessary.

    Mammos frequently don't reveal cancer until it's fairly well along, but it's much, much better than nothing. It can literally save your life, as it did with my mom and my aunt and me, though it may be through an indirect path.

    Good on you for writing about all of this. Maybe it will inspire someone else to go ahead and go through with it; it's a huge relief to get that 'no problems' diagnosis, but it's even more important to catch the 'not okay' ones. Those are only the tip of the iceberg of scary, but it's a step towards saving your life.

  15. artbeco, I remember! It's just one of the many things that make me wish I were closer to you folks, way closer.


    I've been keeping up with your blog; my fingers are crossed for Moe's job prospects.