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So You Had a Mammogram...

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Last year when I had my mammogram, they saw something suspicious and recommended a biopsy—a stereotactic biopsy. It meant nothing to me. A biopsy is something that I’d heard about, but never experienced.

I was scheduled to have this done a couple of days after the finding, and I arrived at the hospital around 7:30 in the morning. I was asked to put on a gown— with the opening in front of course, and I was then taken into a room that had a contraption that, to this day, is difficult to describe. It was a bed of sorts, with an opening in the middle, which I later found out was for my breast to hang through. I had to get on a stool to get up onto the “table,” and then I was told to lie face down with my breast through this hole. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. They assured me that they weren’t, so facedown I went. Then they raised the table and through the side of the hole, I saw a doctor come in and sit down below. They took my breast, which at this point looked really foolish hanging there like a limp sack of sawdust, and put it in a vice. Then, real friendly, they began to tighten the thing until I thought it would surely pop off. They took some x-rays and kept cautioning me not to move—like I could—and then they told me they were going to “numb the area.” They did, and I wondered why they’d bothered since numbing it hurt as bad as anything else I could imagine they were going to do. Wrong. It felt a lot like the doctor then took a hot poker and stuck it inside with her foot—all of this while telling me to hold really still. A nurse, bless her heart, kept patting my back, which made me wonder if she was there to put me in a choke hold in case I tried to get up sans breast or if she was just being kind. I have a plate in my neck, from a previous form of torture, and lying like that for the length of time it took to remove several pieces of tissue was very hard to do. I vowed to not participate in this medieval form of medicine ever again. When it was over, I asked the nurse why they made the “bed” vibrate, and she said they didn’t, it was me shaking.

I’d like to say things got better from there, but they didn’t. I was soon overwhelmed with words like malignant, DCIS, oncology surgeon, and this from a nurse, “I’d be scared too.”

I had another mammogram a year later. Guess what: There was a problem with the other breast. “I think you should have this checked,” the radiologist said. “This could be something, but then it could be nothing, however, you need a…” you guessed it “…stereotactic biopsy.” “No,” I heard someone scream. They said it was me.

I went home and immediately got onto the internet to see if there was a better way to do this face down “stereotactic” thing, and there was. It’s called an “upright stereo.” Wonderful, I thought, I am going to opt for that. I called the next day and asked them if I could switch and get this upright thing. They said I could.

I presented at the hospital, feeling this great sense of relief that I’d at least not be looking down through a hole and feeling like a car that is about to be serviced. I put on the mandatory gown, and a really sweet person took me into a room that looked innocent enough—that machine with a tray attached was to hold the instruments right? Wrong again. I was told to sit in a chair that was across the room from the “machine.” The nurse asked me a few questions and then took the back of the chair and pushed it against the “instrument holder.” It wasn’t an instrument holder. She took my breast and put it on the tray and clamped it down tight. It made the mammogram I’d had previously feel like a light massage. Then she did several x-rays, cautioning me not to move or breathe—like I could. Then the doctor came in. She was a pleasant-looking woman, and I assumed there was hope. She took some “things” and attached them to the tray-looking thing, and the nurse swabbed my breast with alcohol. Goodbye little buddy, I kept thinking to myself. She then took a tube-like instrument with a very sharp-looking gadget attached to it and attached that. She said something like, “I’m going to numb the area,” and I remember thinking there’s not enough medicine in the world for this as she stuck a needle into my breast. I fully expected to see it deflate like a balloon. Several jabs and then we were ready for the drill-like thing. Have you ever tried to get a button back onto a pillow once it’s come off? Once I took a crochet hook and put it through the hole and then tried to pull the thread through to attach the buttons on each side. I digress, but I know how that pillow would have felt if pillows could feel. Shudder. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. The nurse appeared behind the doctor with a pair of tweezers and a plastic sort of tray, and she leaned over and picked up a piece of my flesh—well, it didn’t really look like flesh. It looked like a maggot that was all bloody and a bit yellowed. The drill-like thing would drill, and then she’d pick up what it had “vacuumed” out, neatly laying it on the tray. I was both fascinated and sickened. This continued until we had eight or so of those little buggers lying in a row on her container, and then the next stab nearly sent me skyward. The doctor noticed; what on earth was she looking at up until that point (did she really think my eyebrows belonged up in the middle of my hairline)? She asked me if I needed more numbing medicine. Hmmm…I opted for her just to continue since the numbing stuff didn’t seem to really numb anyway, but she couldn’t stand the way I winced and shot some more of that stuff that doesn’t numb into my breast. Three more samples, and she was done. Don’t move, they said, we need to take more pictures. Like I could move? You mean moving had been an option?

So, I’ve had two kinds of stereotactic biopsies. And this is America? This is supposed to be progress? This was invented by whom?!!! They wonder why women don’t want to have mammograms. At least when you have a baby and go through all that pain, you get to take something cute and cuddly home. When I was finished with this, they gave me an icepack!

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