So, since I’ve been doing this more or less out on the internet, might as well finish the process off.
Today I had my mammogram! (It would have been last week, but back, out, ouch.)
It was…hmm. It wasn’t awful, actually, nor scary, nor anything. It did use up my entire store of Cheerful Coping, which means that I am spending the rest of the day resigned to accomplishing nothing much. (This may be a personal thing.)
And my boobs aren’t thrilled with me right now, I won’t lie. Although it’s less pain and more that kind of weird hyper-sensitive skin ache you get when you have the flu. I am very aware that they are there. Things Have Been Done To Them. They Are Not Amused.
But it’s not like when I got the IUD, when I went into fetal position for a day. Still, mileage may vary.
So I went in, and the tech was very nice. I had moved all my fears of “It’s cancer!” to “The tech will be mean and squash my boobs and won’t stop when I yell “ARRRGGH!” This turned out to be unfounded. Everyone was very nice. Gave them my information, name got called, went in. (The waiting room was somewhat emotionally uncomfortable, I grant you–if there’s an antechamber where everyone is in their own private little hell, the waiting room of a radiologist/oncologist is high on the list. Still, my time was short and I had Angry Birds.)
Also, I got really lucky. It was hot back there. We’re having cold weather and the heaters have kicked in, but the techs were sweating and muttering about how the thermostat was busted. Score one for the person not wearing a shirt!
Stripped to the waist, got the Super Fashionable Green Drape, took my deodorant off with a wet-wipe (that was unexpected) and then faced…the Magic Waffle-Iron.
I mean, it’s a bigass high-tech imaging device that looks like a cross between a dentist’s X-Ray machine and the Orgasmatron from Sleeper* but it’s basically a Magic Waffle-Iron. The tech took my information (again) and checked it against the wrist band they’d given me.
“Do you get a lot of people sneaking in to get mammograms?” I asked.
She stared at me.
“Well, you’ve verified my identity three times now, so I’m wondering if this is a problem…I mean, if I was going to sneak in and get a procedure done, it would NOT be this one–”
“No one is sneaking in,” she said, and gave me that look people give me when they can’t decide if I’m a moron, trying to be funny, or have some kind of disorder.
Once we established this was my first mammogram, however, it was all good. She promised that if the building caught fire, she would not leave without me and that we would not be dragging the Magic Waffle-Iron through the building behind us. She promised to stop if it was too painful.
I found the Boob-Mouse–I’ve gotten good at finding it–and she taped a little tiny metal bearing to it as a marker. So, boob out, on shelf, leaning in at weird angle. She arranged everything where it should go, then Magic Waffle-Iron squashes everything like liquid on a microscope slide.
It wasn’t fun. But it was on the discomfort side and didn’t really shiver over to actual pain. And it was over fast–Waffle-Iron would squash, I’d say “Okay, that’s far enough,” she’d say “Stopping there,” she’d step behind this little glass partition to check the monitor, and then I’d have to lift my chin because it was in the way of the Waffle-Iron (I kept doing that) and then there would be about a three count, and the Waffle-Iron would release.
The top sheet of the Waffle is transparent, so you get to see yourself rolled out like a particularly egregious nippled biscuit.
The tech fiddles around the partition, and then the Waffle-Iron swings sideways (at least this one did) and you repeat the process and get an angled shot.
“Ooh! Can I look?” I said.
“Uh…sure!” (I don’t know, she seemed a little surprised. Do people not WANT to look inside their boobs?)
So I went behind the little partition, and there was a picture of my boob, looking like a cloud formation. The tissue close to the chest was dark, then it became a lot of white cloudy stuff. She pointed out a large round shape in the white-on-white. “That’s the big one,” she said.
“But there’s one there, and there, and there–” I stopped. Cysts as far as the eye could see.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “You have a bunch in there.”
I paused. I had never felt anything but the Boob-mouse. Suddenly I felt weirdly infested. “What’s that dark spot, right there? That looks scary.”
She gave me a pitying look. “Oh, honey. That’s normal breast tissue.”
So, that’s what cystic breasts look like. Huh.
They did the other one, since it would be really awkward to check the right breast and have the left quietly harboring cancer. It, too, was full of cloudy white.
Then a second run at Boob-mouse, with a more precise (i.e. smaller) top layer on the Waffle-Iron. That actually got pretty unpleasant, as Boob-mouse had by now figured out that Something Was Going On and it was being compressed to half its normal size and was getting pissy about it. But the tech warned me that it would be more uncomfortable, and again, never lasted more than a long three count.
I think this may be one of the very few procedures that are probably easier for someone with larger breasts. I mean, I didn’t enjoy it, but there was a lot of tissue to work with and they weren’t tugging or anything. (I expect there’s an upper limit to this, though–you can only squash things so far.)
Not fun, but I’d totally go for that rather than having my teeth cleaned. And I like my dentist. (Not that this is a choice anyone ever offers.)
(That said, if you have body issues, and/or you really don’t like a stranger hauling things into position, this may be pretty emotionally wracking. I am too old and jaded to get upset and they were very professional, but let’s face it, somebody is gonna be handling your breasts, no two ways about it. This would undoubtedly be very upsetting if one were a teenager, or had a rude or heavyhanded tech. Plan accordingly. People will be touching you.)
Then it was off to the ultrasound. This was pretty straightforward and much like the one other ultrasound I’ve had–apply slime, stick weird wand that looks vaguely like an electric shaver into slime, wiggle.
“Now, I can’t tell you anything,” she said up front. “It has to go to the radiologist first, and then either I’ll be able to tell you what it is or he’ll come talk to you, but I’m not allowed to make any diagnoses or say anything about what I’m seeing.” (This struck me as fair, though probably deeply nerve-wracking–I was glad she admitted it up front.)
“Fair enough,” I said. “But if it’s boob-clams, you have to tell me.”
There was a noticeable pause while she stifled something—I choose to believe it was laughter—and then she said “I will tell you if it’s a boob-clam.”
(It wasn’t a boob-clam.)
Now, I have never looked at any proud parent’s ultrasound and seen jack shit in it. Tell me it’s a baby, I’ll smile and nod because obviously it’s important to you, but for all I know, it’s an ultrasound of a Labrador’s intestines. A male Labrador. Whatever magic-eye puzzle trick there is to seeing a baby, I don’t got it. It’s a staticky smear.
Cysts, though! Wow! Those suckers are black! You can see the Boob-mouse from space! (Plus a small satellite in the same vicinity.) It’s like that one fractal with the big black blob and the little small black blob sticking off it, on a sea of mottled pixels. That is some contrast!
Anyway, she looked at it, said “Okay! Now I go talk to the radiologist…I’ll be right back…” and I got through two levels of Angry Birds (while lying on my back with a towel over my chest) before she returned. “Good news!” she said. “They’re all cysts. Let me show you the big one…” She pulled up the image, walked through What Makes Us Sure That’s A Cyst (black = fluid filled, a discernable and roughly symmetrical edge, and something I didn’t quite get about clear contrast from behind, but she pointed out a brightly lit patch beneath the Boob-mouse and apparently that satisfied the criteria.)
Then—and I absolutely want to give her credit for this!—she said “You did absolutely the right thing coming in, just because it’s a cyst doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been something worse, we get women in all the time with large lumps that they’ve just ignored and which are bad, so if another one comes up, definitely tell your doctor.”
My gut feeling is that there’s probably a lot of women who (like me!) are freaked out, afraid it’s cancer, and then when they find out it’s nothing, they get embarrassed. (God knows why—something about how we’re socialized, I guess—but when terror goes sideways, it’s all too likely to turn into shame.) I think being told by the medical professional that you did exactly what you were supposed to do and to do it again is really helpful. So–err–dunno if any medical techs in this field read my blog, but if you do, do that! That’s good! That helps! That means I’m likely to treat the next lump as “Thing to get checked out, just in case,” which is healthier than “Great, another one,”** or “OH GOD THIS TIME IT’S THE CANCER.”
So that was my experience with a mammogram. Feel free to post yours, positive or negative, below.
And finally—a BIG thank you to everybody who posted about what to expect from one, on earlier blog posts! So many routine medical procedures are shrouded in mystery, and hell, we’re already afraid we’re going to die, one more anxiety on top isn’t helping anybody. I’m grateful to everybody who shared their stories—it really helped!
*I have just dated myself terribly.
**Not that it might not come to that, realistically.