Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Yearly Date With Torture

I go because the husband/lover/best friend wants me to.  I go because my doctor orders me to.  I go because I'm trying to take good care of myself.  I go, but I definitely do NOT enjoy the going.  In fact, I loathe going.  I consider many excuses to put off going, and sometimes I do put it off, but in the end, I go.

To my annual mammogram, that is.  I dedicate this blog post to all of my relatives that have suffered through breast cancer - my grandmother, mother-in-law, and two sisters-in-law.  And, I write this post for those of you that have no idea what happens when a woman has a mammogram.

As it is for many other families, cancer seems to be all around me.  In addition to those listed above, my husband and daughter have fought other forms of cancer, too.  So I go.  They say the best fight against breast cancer is early detection, and I am all for that.

After my arrival at the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania, I was given my identification bracelet (yes my birthday really is 9/11) and ushered into the changing area for the mammogram testing.  I was instructed by the girl to disrobe from the waist up and don a lovely hospital gown.  The instructions are on the wall above the chest of gowns, in case it wasn't understood.

When I am ready, I am to wait in a waiting room until called.  I look around the room at the other women and I see uneasy expressions.  Every woman has a "breast story."  I, too, have mine.  I've been told previously that I have calcifications and lumpy breasts.  I have had painful biopsies of suspicious areas.  I even have a small marker permanently inserted in my right breast so they can "keep an eye on things."  I was told this small marker is metal, but it won't set off any alarms in an airport.  It will just show up brightly on any x-rays.

I am slightly stressed too.  Not only do I dread the painful procedure, but now as I wait and watch the morning news show on the waiting room television, I learn that Geisinger has issued an official  statement that yes, the hospital does indeed have bedbugs, but they are taking care to exterminate the affected areas.  I slide myself so that I am perched on a mere one inch of the edge of the chair and immediately think I feel itchy.

I know that behind that door awaits a nasty form of torture, and I wonder why scientists have not yet developed a much more comfortable method of checking women's breasts for cancer.

Eventually I am called in, and a brief medical history is taken.  I am asked about any major health changes that may have taken place since my last visit.

Then I am disrobed on the right side, and positioned properly at the torture device.

Warning:  Do not read any further if you are squeamish!

Two horizontal plastic slabs are clamped down above and below my right breast and screwed tighter and tighter, vice-like, until I gasp.  I look down at myself and am shocked and appalled to see that my breast resembles a flat pancake.  The wicked witch over there is taking her good old time as she fiddles  at her computer.  Finally she orders me to hold my breathe, the machine makes a whizzing noise, and then suddenly the slabs pop open.  I can breathe again, but I am hurtin' for certain.

Next the slabs are somehow rotated so they are now vertical.  I am repositioned.  By that I mean she just takes a hold of my breast and tugs and rearranges it to be in the machinery how she wants it.   After locking things in place she goes back to her control panel, takes way too long, and now a very painful vertical pancake is made.

She is done ruining my right side, so it is time to do the same for the left.  Does she enjoy inflicting this pain on me?  I wonder, for she is way too smiley and cheerful for me at this point.  I just want my clothing back on and I want to get the heck outta there.  And take some Advil.

Here is the breast vice in the corner, and all the other pain-makers are on the shelves.

The technician explained that I will get THE LETTER within a week, or if there is a problem, I will get A CALL sooner.  So now there's that load on the back of my mind to try and ignore.  Rationally I know that worrying won't accomplish any good thing, but it is still kind of like trying to ignore a large pink elephant in the corner of the room.

One time my husband wanted me to explain to him what a mammogram was like, as men have no frame of reference for this test.  I told him to try and imagine how he would feel if his manly parts were put into a vice and smooshed down to about 1/2 inch.  His reaction was, "STOP!" He appeared to be sweating too.

If there's any pleasant part of the whole experience it was what was waiting for me when I got home.

The note from my husband says, "Just Because."  
What a guy!


  1. Is it more torturous for larger chested women? I ask, not knowing your breast size - but I am a good B cup. More than a handful, but not going to be mistaken for a plastic surgery survivor. :) And yes, it hurts - but not too terribly bad and not for very long. I think it is the shortness of time in the machine that makes me not really care about the pain so much. I mean - if I know that in under five minutes I will be slipping on my shirt, waving goodbye to the receptionist and on my way to a celebratory milkshake I think I can get past having the gils flattened.
    I do know that my friends that are going for the first time have asked if it hurts and I answer "Sort of but..." and so far no one has called me out on it.
    Is it just me? Because if I had never had one I certainly wouldn't want to get one after reading your experience. Yikes!! But your history and that of your family it is an absolute must.
    I am just glad I am not a man...now a prostrate exam? Whole 'nother story. ick. heehee

    And your husband is pretty darn special. So sweet.

  2. I have them yearly due to past problems....they are not a walk in the park (I am a good B cup)..but I think it depends on the technician..I've had mamos where they hurt like heck..and some that didn't...so I think it depends on the teck...heres hoping you don't get a call and get a letter instead :) glad thats behind you...I rather have a mamo any day versus a colonoscopy...

  3. and your hubby is a special guy for sure :)

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