I started my day Friday morning doing something none of us Real Women look forward to doing: Making pancakes. Not in a fry pan. In a mammogram machine.
Any of us over the age of 45 are familiar with the routine. You know the drill. No lotions, no deodorant. A perky nurse or technician ushers you in to a changing area no larger than a small closet. Inside is one clothing hook, one mirror, a small chair or bench, a rack of random magazines, and a lovely starched johnnie coat. Take off everything from waist up, put on the fashionable jacket, open in the front, come on out when ready.
From there you join the friendly technician in the mammo room. She asks a few personal questions, runs through your history. Which is a test of your own memory trying to recall dates of certain events that involved your boobs. Soon you step up to the pancake machine. This is not a time to be shy. Nor is this a great time to be small-breasted, but hey, that part is out of our control. The technician, who is happily chatting about the weather or children or pets, maneuvers your body into an awkward half-hug around the Mammo Beast. Your breast is unceremoniously placed on top of a platform. Then the perky tech starts to move the clear top plate down. At first, it feels like ‘hey, this is no big deal’ until she gives it that one extra last tightening crank. Holy cow. If you are brave, you look briefly down at your body part and think “huh. Didn’t know it could do that.” She then quickly moves behind her protective xray wall and says (and this is my favorite part) “hold your breath.” Really, there’s no need to say that. The Beast has already taken my breath away. After a quick flip of a switch, she comes back and releases your pancake – err, I mean, your breast. But wait – there’s more. She repeats the process, but from side to side so you end up with a flapjack on its edge, while your arm is wrapped lovingly around the plate holding the death-grip handle. But remember to keep that arm and shoulder relaxed down, chin up and – oh, right, don’t breathe.
Next comes a couple minutes of awkward cocktail-party chatter while you stand there, partially dressed, waiting for her to make sure the image was successful. Then it is time for the other side. Same fun, but it is lefty’s turn while righty is screaming internally to you “What the f- was that? I thought you loved me!”
In a few minutes, the torture is over and you take your reddened boobs back to the closet to get dressed, hoping they will re-inflate to their original perkiness. Depending on the facility, you either hang out and wait for a radiologist to review the images right then and there, or like me, are sent home and told that if there is a problem, you will be called, otherwise a good old fashioned letter of A.O.K. will arrive in the mail. Many of us have experienced the dread of being told “could you step back in? We need to get another look at something”, which is often followed by even flatter and more painful pancake creation.
Generally this momentary torture is over within minutes and your boobs forgive you after a few hours and some Tylenol. Is it fun? No. But it is vitally important.
It is because of this regular appointment with the Mammo Beast that some white dots were discovered in my images almost exactly three years ago. After a lumpectomy and radiation, I’ve been cancer free since, and God willing, for the rest of my life. It is because of this pancake-maker that several of my friends and loved ones have caught issues early enough to have similar experiences as mine and now look forward to healthy futures. It is because of those few minutes of breath-taking squeezing that so many R.W.’s are able to be armed and ready to go to battle and come out a winner in the end. At the very least, who doesn’t love a good mammo story as a conversation starter for the next Girls Night Out?
If there are any of you out there who don’t have regular dates with Miss Press-Alot, I beg you to make an appointment today. Don’t be afraid, don’t put it off as something you ‘don’t have time for’. It’s not that bad, and it quite literally would and could save your life. Trust me, it is worth putting up with a tight squeeze.
Besides, you could really luck out and take home a nifty pink emery board or magnet as a “booby” prize.