Sunday, August 5, 2012

(I dedicate this blog post to all of the breast cancer survivors out there, and the people who love them!)

The Mammogram

The sheet of paper practically burned a hole through my pocketbook.  My gynecologist had presented the "oh so important" prescription to me two months ago upon completion of my annual exam, encouraging me to make the call.  In response to her heart-felt plea, I shoved the prescription in a secret purse compartment, irresponsibly procrastinating, while neglecting my own health.

Although yes, I knew I needed to make the call, for some reason, I abstained from running to the phone. After all, the experience of having your "well-endowed" private parts squeezed so tightly between two metal plates that you are rendered unable to inhale even the tiniest breath did not appeal to my sense of urgency.

Finally, during a productive afternoon of scheduling a pediatrician appointment for my 15-year old daughter Melissa and dentist appointments for my husband Bob and me, I decided to take advantage of my sudden willingness to embrace the health care system and I MADE THE CALL.

Two weeks later I found myself in the Women's Imaging Center, undressing in the small, but comfortable and well appointed dressing room, and waiting for the radiology tech to come in and squeeze the crap out of my boobs perform this important diagnostic screening test.

With a sense of compassion that can only come from working with "endowments" of all shapes and sizes day in and day out, the sweet radiology tech twisted my private parts this way and that and pushed and pressed and shoved and squeezed until finally, she seemed satisfied.

"Now don't move," she cautioned as she went behind a protective barrier and pressed a button.

I thought about my current inability to breath, and my "endowments" that were currently being held hostage by this sophisticated piece of machinery and I wondered, "Just where did she think I was going to go?"

I held my breath, listened for the reassuring whirring sound and then the beep that told me when the machine had finished performing its magic.  Finally, she set my "endowments" free and I breathed a sigh of relief.

She happily told me the exam had come to its conclusion, I could get out of jail, pass go, collect $200, go home, relax, and soothe my tender boobs.  If the magical machine spotted a suspicious spot, I'd get a call from my gynecologist.  If not, see ya next year!

Or so I thought.

Two days later, Bob called me at work, a sense of controlled concern in his voice.  The Women's Imaging Center had called.  Seems there were, what they called, technical problems with my mammogram....I needed to go back and get squished have the important diagnostic screening test again.

I called the Women's Imaging Center where the scheduler tried to reassure me that the reason for my return had nothing to do with the medical results, but rather, a technical problem.   Still, I worried and wondered....what did that mean?  Perhaps the nice lady who scheduled this follow up mammogram really knew something about my results.  Perhaps she lied about there being a simple technical problem just so I wouldn't panic!  Perhaps I had reason to worry!  Perhaps I needed to speak to someone who could realign my brain into rational thought.  Not Bob, he'd be worried too.   I needed a kindred spirit, another woman who knew, who understood, who cared.

This compassion came in the form of a co-worker who reassured me that it would be highly unethical for a scheduler to lie to me about the reason for a follow up mammogram.  What's more, surely if the problem has been medical, I would have heard this news from my doctor.

Her kind words kept my panic at bay, for I knew she must be right.  I scheduled the follow up for a Friday during my lunch hour, since the scheduler told me I'd be in and out in no time at big deal.

Yeah, right.

As Friday dawned, I tried to forget about the lunch time appointment, but all too soon, the noon hour rolled around.  I drove to the Women's Imaging Center, gave the appointment desk my name, dutifully followed the instructions to take a seat, and waited....and waited....and waited.....and waited.

So much for being finished in no time at all.

Finally I made my way back to the registration desk and kindly explained my predicament.  My lunch hour would soon come to a close, and I was nowhere closer to learning my fate than I had been an hour earlier.

My sense of urgency came through loud and clear, for a few minutes later, I again walked into the dressing room, placed the "fashionable" gown over my body, and entered the exam room.  At this point I learned that during my first mammogram two days earlier, despite being held hostage, I had actually managed to move, rendered the images impossible to read.  My left "endowment" would pay for this transgression.  Oh yes, that would be the last time my left "endowment" would ever dare to move during a mammogram.

Here we go again.

Push.  Pull. Twist. Turn. Inhale. Freeze. Squeeze. Whir. Beep. Breathe!

Freedom at last!  Or so I thought.  According to the radiology tech, the doctor wanted me to wait while he read the images.   I could not taste the sweet smell of freedom until this mysterious physician gave me the all clear.

I called my office.  No Friday afternoon work for me.

After a few minutes of perusing the latest issue of People Magazine (Poor Suri Cruise, who will get custody?) the radiology tech came over to me and said, "Let's talk privately."

As we walked into a small room, my head filled with irrational details:

"Where will I get treated?"
"Will I need surgery?"
"Will I need radiation?"
"Will I need chemo?"
"Will we still be able to go on vacation?"
"How much disability am I entitled to from work?"

"They saw something on your left breast," the tech said from what seemed like miles away.  "It's probably nothing, just some breast tissue, but the radiologist wants to get another image just to be sure.  Are you able to stay a few minutes longer."

I nodded in the affirmative.

Here we go.  Again.

Push.  Pull. Twist. Turn. Inhale. Freeze. Squeeze. Whir. Beep. Breathe!

I returned to the waiting room and finished my story on the poor little Suri Cruise, however, my brain truly failed to comprehend the words.  A few minutes later the radiology tech returned.

Now the mysterious doctor wanted an ultrasound of my left breast.

My thoughts went into overdrive.

"How big is the tumor?"
"Has it spread?"
"How much time do I have"
"I wonder who will come to my funeral?"

At least the only discomfort that accompanied this test came from a bit of a cold feeling when the tech smothered my left "endowment" with gel.  A few minutes later, she told me to wait while she showed the image to the radiologist, who I now imagined as the secret wizard behind the curtain, conjuring up a magic spell to take Dorothy home.  Perhaps if I clicked my own heels three times, this nightmare would come to an end.

After a few minutes (or several hours, depending upon your perspective) the tech returned.

 "Get dressed, go home, everything is fine, see you next year."

I ran out the door and home to my husband, who shared my sigh of relief.

Despite my reluctance to get a mammogram, I cannot stress enough how important it is in the diagnosis of breast cancer at its earliest stages, when there is the best chance for successful treatment.  I encourage you to click on this link to read cancer screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society.

If you like my stories, please feel free to tell me in the comments section below!


  1. God bless, Lisa - you had me holding my breath with worry for you! Good for you, for going through with it (so many times!). I'm sorry it was such a stressful experience for you, but I'm really glad you got the all clear. <3
    Some Dark Romantic

  2. Whew. Good post, Lisa. I hate the glass plates. A necessary evil though. You describe it's value very well. Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. I swear I live parallel lives with you and Chris Dean! That sounds just like my experience, except instead of the ultrasound, I got "special plates" and instead of reading about Suri Cruise, it was National Geographic.

    P.S. I would come to your funeral, don't worry. I need an excuse to visit Jersey. Never been there before - LOL! Glad you're okay, though, sista! ;0)

  4. I am so very happy everythng is fine! *shared sigh of relief* MOST of the women I know who have had recent mammograms (including myself) have had to make return visits. Perhaps they're being overly cautious these days, but ya know what? I'm OK wth that!

  5. Wow. This is an eerie parallel to my own experience. My return for additional "studies" is Monday the 13th. No tech problems here-- the Radiologist's Report is on this lovely site called "My Chart." I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DIDN'T WANT TO READ IT, BUT I DID. THREE TIMES (so far). Now I play the waiting game. Mom had breast cancer. She's fine now, but she was diagnosed at age 68!! My best friend had breast cancer-- she did everything right. She reached the magic 5 year survival milestone. She died last year. For these reasons I'm freaking out.

    1. Hi Nadine, I have worked in health care for many years, so I know that there are so many successful ways to treat breast cancer! The hardest part is not knowing. Once you know if you are actually facing a diagnosis - then you can put together a game plan. In the meantime, I send hugs your way and I hope everything will be fine as I'm sure it will. xo - Lisa