Squeeze. The Story of a Mammogram.

She yawned as she handed me two papers to sign. She does this every day. The papers I mean, I don’t know about the yawning. I am just the next one on the list. It’s not that she doesn’t value me as a person or me as my experiences. This is her job. This is what she does right now. I don’t know her story and she doesn’t know mine. Maybe she’s yawning because she is pursuing a dream of a college degree at night while working during the day. Maybe she has a baby boy that kept her up all night. She just handed me two papers to sign and with that, she becomes a part of my story. My experience. With that yawn and two papers, she becomes a part of the story of so many women, having this same experience.

photo-1-2-e1403663804941The annual mammogram.

I’m sure it’s fine.

I did not read the papers that I signed. I think they were giving permission to charge my insurance for this procedure. I am not naive and totally understand how this works. I totally understand its necessity as well. It has been a year since I last visited here. The computer read the date and issued the order to print the letter that would then be mailed directly to me, to my house. The letter that I would open and read and dutifully make a phone call to schedule this appointment. Only for the day to arrive and drive here and stand here and sign these two papers that generate revenue for this hospital. I know how this works. And I get why it is necessary.

I’m sure it’s fine.

I sat down on one of the grey chairs. Beside a man in a wheelchair and an elderly woman beside him. I had too many words in my head to be able to really notice them. I wanted to write. I pulled out my notebook and scribbled down some words I was pondering. Words and phrases that I was hearing that I didn’t want to lose.

I’m sure it is fine.

I didn’t have enough time to get all of my thoughts out on paper when the door opened and a young woman, slight, thin, in navy blue scrubs, with dark hair stood in the doorway and called my name. I pulled the elastic around my notebook and stored it in my purse to join her. Walking down the hall, I rehearsed the next thing I had wanted to write. I didn’t want to lose it.

I’m sure it’s fine.

Debbie, I made a point of remembering her name, pointed me in the direction behind a curtain that didn’t quite reach the floor and gave me directions. Put your things in this locker. Here is the gown, it opens in the front. Meet me out here to the left. I nodded confidently and said, “I got it. To the left? Thanks.” As soon as she left me, I pulled out my notebook to finish what I started.

Then I followed her instructions. Unzipped my dress, and realized this was the perfect thing to wear for this. So easy to get in and out of. Placed my purse and sunglasses in the locker. Took off my locket necklace. Picked up the gown. Put it on backwards first, then turned it around to open in the front. I really despise those things. I looked at the strings and thought about getting them to tie, but realized there was really no need. I peeked from behind the curtain and found my Debbie again who led me back down another hallway.

She asked me to have a seat, which I did. And with a few keystrokes at the computer she was standing in front of, she began her kind, but required interrogation.

Have you noticed any changes in your breasts?

Have you had any problems?

Are you taking any hormones?

When was your last exam?

Do you have any recent cancer in your family?

I’m sure it’s fine.

I answered and then she said, “Alright. Let’s get started.”

She asked me to take my left arm out of the sleeve of the gown and she helped position me on to the pink and white machine. Why is it pink? Is that really necessary? Do we feel better about this if it is pink? I am not bothered by this, but it distracts me. Maybe it is a way of bringing us all together. All for one, one for pink. Maybe there is a certain camaraderie in pink … perhaps.

“I’m going to just pull you in”, she explained. She cupped my left breast and placed it on the grey shelf. There was some adjusting and arranging. And with a push of a button on the floor, the squeeze begins. It is not bad. Only very uncomfortable. But I know it only lasts for a few seconds. And we all know, we can do anything for a few seconds. She retreats behind the plastic shield a few feet away. There is some whirring and then she said, “Stop breathing.”

I’m sure it’s fine. Wait. What?

This startled me. What do you mean? Stop breathing. I couldn’t get my lungs to cooperate and suddenly felt every urge to rebel and take the biggest breath I could. I was still thinking about this when the whirring stopped and the squeezing ended and Debbie was back by side, tilting the machine for a 2nd round on the left side. Place your arm here. Lean forward. Move your hips in. Look over this shoulder. Finally, she left me to hide behind her screen again, squeeze and again…”Stop breathing.”

In my mind, I started editing and revising, thinking of all of the different phrases she could have used instead.

Hold your breath.

Be very still.

Don’t move.

But she chose…Stop breathing.

Direct. Two verbs. Two actions. Distinct. No room for misunderstanding.

She came back to repeat this process on the right side.

Remove arm.

Place breast.

Turn right.

Twist left.

Squeeze.

Stop breathing.

Then.

Tilt left.

Place arm.

Look right.

Move hips.

Squeeze.

Stop breathing.

That’s it. All done. Deep breath.

I’m sure it’s fine.

But then, Debbie, who was very kind and quite wonderful, said that she needed to get one more picture on the right side to get a better look at all of my dense tissue. “Very normal,” she said. “Just need to get a better picture,” she said. I obliged. I wasn’t much in a place to argue with her.

“Ok. Have a seat while I take a look at these.”

And I realized. That she didn’t intend to show these pictures to me. I wanted to see. I sat for several seconds, feeling awkward while she looked privately at pictures of my body, before asking, “Can I see?” And she responded, “Yes, come on over here.”

I gathered up my gown and crossed it in front of me and headed over to look at the screen. Yep. Five pictures of my two-dimensional breasts up on the screen. She showed me the dense tissue that she was referring to and we shared a nice moment looking at my boobs together.

I’m sure it’s fine.

And I thought to myself. How many women do not get a regular mammogram? How many women do not open that letter? How many women do not call and make that appointment? How many women sit quietly and do not ask to see their own pictures? How many women sit compliantly and wait for someone else to tell them what they see?

Friends. Take some control. Please do what you need to do to take care of yourselves. Get your mammograms. Get your physicals. Get up and take a look for yourself. Fifteen minutes of very uncomfortable and awkward. For at least a year’s worth of peace of mind. It’s a good trade, John Dunbar. 

Eat well. Play more. Choose happy. Stand up and request to see and demand to be seen. Tell your story. Be a part of other’s stories. Pursue your dreams. Live your life.

Do not. Under any circumstances.

Stop breathing.

And believe that it is fine.

Let’s all, Go. Do that.

I’m sure it’s fine.

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