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Me and My Mammogram

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I had my annual mammogram this week.


I know some women hate this procedure but I am relatively religious about it, in a non-practicing Catholicism sort of way, because the first year I had one, they discovered a lump. My midwife promptly scheduled me for a lumpectomy and I prepared for it the only way I knew how: I went cross-country skiing the night before to alleviate my anxiety and then came home and watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail and drank wine as a sort of pre-op prep.


You might find this approach odd but when the nurse stuck a ten-inch needle in my breast the next morning in an effort to stabilize the lump and I almost passed out standing up, the memory of  the scene where the armless and legless knight shouts, “I’m not dead yet,” really helped. Later on, when I was lying on the operating table with only a local anesthesia, I distracted myself by replaying the movie in my head. 


The downside was, the surgeon thought I was laughing at him.


The lumpectomy was successful and the lump was thankfully benign. But to this day my left breast sags and I swear that doctor inadvertently cut a muscle in my breast because I laughed on the operating table. 


It’s good to have an excuse for sagging breasts.


This year I asked George if he wanted to drive me to the mammogram appointment and he turned pale. I said, “Look at it this way, if they find a benign lump in my other breast and he cuts that muscle too, I can rebuild without guilt.” 


This is a concept I inherited from Susan, who has a history of breast cancer—and small breasts—in her family. I asked her one time if her family history of breast cancer worried her and she said no, she sometimes fantasized about having a proactive double mastectomy so she could pick exactly the breasts she wanted. This idea appalled Annie. She said, “Why not just go with a Wonder Bra??” and I said the search for one my size would be too painful.


Since I had to make time for the mammogram, I decided to also book myself for some blood tests. I avoid blood tests the way other people avoid—well, mammograms. And I had been doubly avoiding these tests because I was supposed to fast for eight hours prior to having blood taken. Not eating causes me to have blood sugar drops so severe that even the dog goes running. 


I said to George, “Can you believe I can’t eat until after I’ve had the tests?” and he said, “why do you think I’m not going to drive you?” George is a veteran of my blood sugar drops. Once he and I went looking for the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen and got lost and I didn’t eat for five hours. Hans Christian Andersen is still a verboten topic in our house.


The morning of the mammogram/blood test, I overslept, which was okay because I didn’t have time to lament the loss of breakfast. But when I got to the breast center I discovered that I had brought the wrong scrip with me—instead of the mammogram scrip, I had brought the scrip for a bone scan—another test I’ve been avoiding. So I had to wait for my midwife to fax in the scrip for my mammogram, which further delayed my blood tests. I was on my second issue of People magazine when I got called in to the lab, and on the second tube of blood when I started to feel faint. I said to the nurse, “I’m going down,” and she looked panicked and yanked the needle out of my arm. 


This was so much worse than a mammogram because at least when the nurse stuck the needle in my arm, she found something. The poor mammogram technician had to struggle to find enough breast to X-ray. She kept trying to get me to lean into the machine further while she tugged on what little (sagging) breast she could grab hold of. While she tried to find something, I thought to myself, this woman sees a lot of breasts, every day. I briefly wondered how mine compared to the others that she sees and felt lacking. But then it occurred to me that she could be a good resource if I ever decided to reconstruct.


I received positive calls the next day from both the lab tech and the mammogram tech. As always, it was a big relief. I called Annie with the good news. I said, “I’m all clear.” 


I said, “Why do you think so many women put this test off? I know it’s not a fun way to spend an hour, but the upside is all in the results.” She said, “The same could be said for your persistent refusal to shop for a Wonder Bra.” I said, “Who needs a Wonder Bra when more than a mouthful is a waste?” She asked if George had had his mouth wired shut.

Next year, I’m taking her with me for the blood tests.

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