A good way to remember how to spell mammogram is tell yourself that it has two Ms like you have two boobs. Knockers. Jugs. Melons. Sacs. Tits. Titties. Fun Bags. Okay. There are lots of words we use to name our breasts. What matters here is that we take good care of them. One way to do this is to get a mammogram. Now, typically this becomes a routine test like a PAP test or a colonoscopy when we get a bit older, but if cancer runs in your family then your doctor might recommend that you have a mammogram sooner than later.
My stunning mother is a breast cancer survivor. She’s past her 10-year cancer-free anniversary – yahoo baby! But her health history precedes mine, therefore, this mama gets tested for things earlier than usual.
This wasn’t my first mammogram. Read about my first experience here. It was in 2012. I thought of my mother that day. And I thought of her today too. I think of all the women who’ve come before me, and who will follow, and how they’ll feel…
It’s a bizarre thing to have your personal parts pulled and squished…or have things (cameras!) jammed in them. Well, you know, by someone who isn’t your love! And so, I had to give some extra lovin’ to my hoo-has today. Just, you know, looking at them and willing them to be healthy. Thinking about how I feel about them.
Finding the Breast Health Centre was easy. Lots of good signage which helps when you’re nervous about it all. You don’t want to feel lost on top of anxious.
The nurses in the centre were very helpful and happy. That is also important. Being jovial in a place where people come to get their parts smushed, and potentially bad news to follow, is so very integral to a positive experience.
And so, I was ushered into the centre, handed a pink smock that smelled like fresh laundry…told to remove everything from the waist up…(no, I didn’t take a picture of my boobies. sorry. wrong website for that.)
I sort of felt like a super hero putting the smock on. Like I could feel the energy of all the woman who’ve worn it, and the hope and love that a dragon boat race or a survivor pink ribbon holds. The signage was informative. It’s no secret that my ta-tas are about to undergo ‘compression’. The bathroom was clean and smelled nice. I donned the smock and sat in the small waiting room. Several other women were there, also wearing the pink super hero smock. It was a bit of a tense room. But I understood.
I maybe waited ten minutes before I was called into the examination room. Here we go ladies, I thought. A friendly young nurse asked me a few questions before telling me to take off my smock. Which I did. And then felt weird for about a second. It is weird to stand half naked in front of someone you don’t know. And this girl sounded exactly like Cameron Diaz! (I told her after, and she laughed. We had a moment. My smock was back on.) I think that helped…sure, I’ll show a movie star my boobs. Wait, what? But seriously, you have to let go of the intimacy of the whole experience. This is not a first date. It’s a medical examination. It’s almost like you separate your heart from you parts. A breast becomes a thing to lift up and slap on a counter. Like a slab of meat. But like, all in a gentle, loving way.
The nurse helped me get my body and boobs into position on the machine. Like, she literally lifted and pushed my boobs. I had to hold in my giggles. That would have been a second date thing to do, thank you very much! (I kid. I kid!) But it’s not easy maneuvering onto the machine. You have to be a bit of a contortionist to get your boobs in the right position. This isn’t cup and cough, you know what I’m saying male readers?
Did it hurt? Yeah. Just before the machine would take an x-ray, it would squish down that extra bit. It felt like my skin and inner boobs were going to rip off. It wasn’t like, I’m gonna cry pain, but definitely, hurry-the-cuss-up pain. We did four positions. Two x-rays per jug. That was it. I totally looked at the nurse’s boobs. I couldn’t help it. Wondered who gave her a mammogram, and if it hurt her too. She was smaller than I in that size department.
We did it, ladies! I put my pink smock back on, said thank you, and was on my way.
Yes, while I was changing, putting my boobs back in my bra, covering it all with my clothes, I pushed ‘what-if’ thoughts out of my mind as they came in. Certain medical exams are like mirrors. They can force you to look at your self, your body and wonder what’s really going on inside? Under my skin? And if it’s something terrible, can I handle it? How? The reflection can grab you tightly and scare you. But I didn’t want to feel scared today. So I inhaled. Felt grateful. And thought about what it was like for Cameron Diaz to work with Tom Cruise.
The thing is, there is so much cancer in my family, if I let myself, I could sit in the corner and worry myself sick about it. Some days, I get overwhelmed with fear. Often it happens in the quiet of folding clean clothes in the laundry room or laying in bed awake when the rest of the family is fast asleep. My mind grabs onto fears about the c-word that make me sweat and panic. Does that happen to you too?
When I think about the fact that I only have one body…and all the terrifying things that can happen to it…that it can do to itself…I get really, really scared sometimes. Unlike Margaret Atwood, I am terrible at negotiating with my mortality (every writer should read ‘Negotiating with the Dead‘). Death is a door that’s in my peripheral vision and I do what I can to ignore it.
So I think about all the things that my body can do that feels good. That makes me feel human and live and even alien all at the same time. I think about how someone can touch my boobs in ways that feel very nice, thank you very much. And that I am always learning from survivors like my mother who give the c-word the f-word, and keep on living a strong, powerful, meaningful life.
Squeeze those bongos for me ladies. In solidarity. We got this. One day. One breast. One survivor at a time.