Mammo Whammy

I hate going to the Breast Center. I steel myself and try to be as matter-of-fact as if I’m getting my teeth cleaned or doing some other unpleasant medical chore.

Everyone there is nice. The décor features soft colors and flowery prints hang on the wall. I’m shown to a dressing room and instructed to put on a gown with the opening in the front.

But the presence of too many women, who are scared out of their wits, wondering what will become of themselves and their families, weighs on me.

I change into the raspberry gown and stash my clothes in the locker.

As I wait to be called, I wonder about the other women. Who will be lucky today? Who is waiting for a second mammogram because the radiologist found something suspicious? I avoid looking my companions in the eye. I have no wisdom and very little comfort to offer.

Inside the mammo room, the technician is pleasant and professional. But the whole process—baring myself, pushing my breast on the metal and plastic plate, allowing her to pull and stretch it into place as if it isn’t one of the most intimate parts of me—is dehumanizing.

I hold my breath, wait for the eye-watering mechanical squeeze. Then we repeat the process and I’m done. She says they’ll call if there’s a problem.

I nod and smile and pretend that I’m OK. I try not to let my mind form the sentence, “What if my luck has run out? What if this time is IT?”

The spirits of the women I’ve known with breast cancer travel with me as I get dressed, walk to the parking ramp and try hard not to think about the three biopsies I’ve already had.

I teeter on the brink of fear, but push that feeling as far back in my mind as possible. I know from experience that worrying won’t help.

I hate going to the Breast Center. But I think of Kim, Jane, Lisa and especially Kathy, and so I go. I’ve got a life to live and people to love. I can’t afford not to.

7 thoughts on “Mammo Whammy

  1. Ellen, your memory-invoking piece encompasses all the views and feelings I’ve experienced at the Breast Center in St. Paul. Interesting that a commenter mentioned her similar experience in Scottsdale. Do these places hire cookie-cutter workers and decorators? 🙂 My guess is that part of the uncomfortableness arises from waiting with strangers in the same predicament – dressed in a gown sans bra. For me, after a biopsy, days and nights increase in length waiting for a diagnosis. Some of us have been fortunate with the results; others have not.

    • Thanks for commenting. I know it’s important to get a mammo–and I’m committed to doing it–but I wish health care providers knew what a rollercoaster it can be!

  2. Àn important reminder about a scary subject. Thank you for describing your experience so vividly.

  3. Wow, Ellen. First of all, great title. As I read your piece I was transported body, mind and spirit to the breast center in Scottsdale, seeing the faces of the other women from two months ago, feeling the cold of the machine, the squish, the accompanying pain and then the worry. Even though the women at the center are kind and helpful, I always feel an odd loneliness creep over me until I leave the building. And yes, there is a residue of that loneliness until the result arrives. Thank you Ellen.

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