Since I turned 40, I had to have a mammogram. Like most women, I was in a mild panic-slash-trauma mode about this procedure. And OMG I am Forty.
I told my husband about my upcoming mammogram, because he is my husband, and one of the only immediate links I have to the rational world. His response: “Is it because you are 40?” I then briefly tossed around the idea of him becoming my ex-husband.
He was totally ignorant about this procedure. He didn’t think that this was a big deal. He didn't know that women dread having this procedure done. No woman he knew ever said a word about it to him. He had no idea that it would be the equivalent of someone firmly squeezing his testicles between two hard flat surfaces for 30 seconds, a few times, in a few different positions. If you are a man, let’s pause while you let that image sink in a little.
You are in a cold room wearing your shirt but no pants, like a baby. In the room is another person and a big machine. The machine has two plates. One is metal and the other is hard plastic. The person places your testicles on the metal plate and you have to stand right up against the edges of the plates in an awkward position. Slowly the plastic plate descends to squeeze your nuts firmly against the metal plate. You want to pull away. It hurts – and not in a good way. The person, having released your testicles to the two firm plates, steps behind you to push some buttons on a computer for thirty seconds and reminds you to breathe. It is embarrassing and you want to cry but you are ashamed, since you are told by everyone - EVERYONE - that this is for your own good. This procedure repeats over and over for about half an hour.
If you are my husband, let’s carve out some time to talk about your mother having FIVE sisters, and how did you escape life not knowing about a mammogram?!?!?!?
If you are a woman, let’s do a quick fist bump, tip of the chin, or tequila shot in solidarity. I’ve got your back, girl.
The looming mammogram appointment made me nervous, so I went online to see what I was in for.
My favorite description talked about feeling “some pressure” during the procedure, which is the same language they use for when you are *literally* being split in two from a baby’s hard skull as it is being uncontrollably expelled from your body, or when you allow a licensed medical practitioner to insert metal tongs into your hoo-ha to spread it apart as he scrapes your tender insides for a sample of tissue, not unlike any number of alien probing nightmares I’ve had.
My second favorite description talked about how you can’t wear deodorant, powder, or lotion during your mammogram, as they may show up on the x-ray as a “breast problem.” Obviously my antiperspirant was tested for radiology interference, although I’m sure any regular medical procedures my husband has had don’t qualify for any such limitations.
My third favorite? This whole part:
“Some women worry that a mammogram will be painful. Compression of the breast is sometimes uncomfortable. However, it’s very important, as it allows the breast tissue to spread and flatten. This ensures a clear view of the breast tissue, and reduces the amount of radiation needed to make an image. Your breasts will be compressed for only twenty to thirty seconds. The entire mammogram procedure takes about thirty minutes.”
In other words, it’s going to hurt, ladies. Suck it up. This is as good as it gets.
“It is not uncommon for an initial mammogram to have suspicious findings, since there are no previous mammograms to be used for comparison. Most suspicious findings are benign, and may be nothing more than cysts or spots of dense tissue. Occasionally, suspicious findings are the results of an unclear image. An additional mammogram to further evaluate a trouble spot is called a diagnostic mammogram and will focus on the problem area. In some cases a breast ultrasound may be recommended. You may want to schedule your mammogram during your birthday month. This is an easy way to remember this important annual screening exam, and a great way to celebrate your good health.”
Yes. A mildly torturous medical procedure, from start to finish, and then maybe even an equally terrifying follow-up or two, is exactly what I want to give myself for my birthday every year.
My husband is incredulous. “Why can’t they come up with a better way to do this?” he asks.
I stare at him. I want to scream. Why can’t they, indeed.
Mammogram info and video from MD Anderson Cancer Center: