I don’t know what it is about getting my yearly mammogram that is so damned frightening. Of course, the spectre of breast cancer hovers over the entire procedure — how can it not? And considering how prevalent breast cancer is among women, it’s not surprising that the yearly reminder of one’s vulnerability can be nerve-wracking.
But there are other annual medical check-ups that I go through that, although they have their own nerve-wracking aspects, don’t seem to make my stomach churn quite as much. There are the annual checkups by my GP and the all-revealing blood tests. There are oh-so-much-fun gynecological exams and their accompanying Pap tests. There are the eye exams, and the visits to the dermatologist — I take all of these in my stride. But the annual mammogram makes me go into what I call “efficiency mode” — completely concentrated on the task at hand in the most emotionless fashion possible in order to get it done and finished.
This may be because I actually found a small lump in one of my breasts when I was 23, and it was removed and biopsied. With today’s technology, the procedure wouldn’t have been needed or even considered. But back then, it was performed “just in case,” and meant an overnight stay in the hospital, a couple of weeks of discomfort, and several days of waiting to find out the results. When word came finally came that it was benign, I told my parents (with whom I was living at the time) and then went up to my bedroom and wept for a solid ten minutes in a paroxysm of relief and released terror.
So there’s that.
And of course, it doesn’t help that mammograms are damned uncomfortable. For those lucky males who have never had to suffer one, it means you have to stand while twisted in a totally unnatural position with your arms placed just so, your head turned to the side, and one of your breasts painfully squeezed between two cold plates. And then you are told not to move or breathe for several seconds. Then comes position number two, which is even more unnatural than position number one, and here come the heavy plates, and you’re wondering what you’ll look like with completely flat breasts. “All right, stand still please. Don’t breathe. Okay, you can breathe now.”
And then you get to do it all over again on the other side.
And then you get to wait to find out whether there’s anything to be really worried about.
This year, I made my appointment for early in the morning, 7:45 am, so that I’d lose as little time at work as possible. It was, as I discovered, early enough so that most of the other women in the waiting room were there not for exams, but for surgery. The staff did their paperwork quickly and efficiently, reassured them of the skills of the doctors and staff, and hurried them back so that they wouldn’t have to sit worrying for too long.
And I sat and waited for my name to be called, and wondered what my tests results would be this year, and if I’d ever find myself once again to be one of the women who were coming in early to see the surgeon. And wished them all well.