Monday, June 13, 2011


As far as I know, no one in my family has ever had breast cancer, but still, I am a staunch supporter of awareness and early detection and I preach it to my daughters, sister and mother. So back in November when I went to the Indian Clinic for my yearly well-woman exam, two months shy of my 38th birthday, I knew she was likely going to suggest a baseline mammogram. And sure enough, she did. And today I was mammogrammed for the very first time and I lived to tell the tale.

I had a scare a few years ago when I discovered a lump in my breast and upon a clinical exam, the PA discovered a matching one in the other breast. There I laid on the table, topless, trying to catch my breath as I listened to her say "There's another one." Instantly I went into panic mode, but...turns out, a matching set is not a bad thing. She said identical lumps in both breasts usually indicate normal hormonal changes in a woman's body - or excessive caffeine intake. Well, I've been in perimenopause for about three years now so that explained any hormonal changes and I used to drink so much caffeine my sister swore if I died no one would discover it for a week because it would take that long for the caffeine to run through my system and my body to stop moving. I think I hummed I had so much flowing through my veins. So magically, a drastic increase in my water intake and dramatic decrease in my caffeine intake made me far less lumpy.

I have had no anxiety about the impending mammogram whatsoever, even after having to reschedule it three times - once because of the blizzard, once because I had a horrible stomach virus and the third time because they were upgrading their mammogram "suite" to all new digital technology. I hear women all the time talk about how horrible mammograms are and how they are just awful experiences, but I look at them the same way I do pelvic exams. No, I don't want to do one every day and they are not the most pleasant thing I've ever experienced, but they are absolutely necessary and both could possibly save my life. And I have a lot to live for.

Paul has been teasing me for the past week, telling me he would help me prepare by slamming my breasts in the refrigerator door, but I declined. I figure it's one of those tests you really don't cram for. Pun kind of intended.

Because I am one of the many uninsured in this great nation, I utilize the Indian Health Services for preventative care and when I'm so sick I can no longer treat myself at home with Benadryl, Tylenol and a heating pad, so the mammogram was done at the Claremore Indian Hospital, a place I've never had reason to go to until today. I text my friend, Stace, last night asking for the best directions considering she out-Indians me by about .... well, a lot. (I'm 1/128 Cherokee and she's about all Seneca-Cayuga.) She text me the directions and between her directions and my untrusty Garmin, who thrives on getting me lost, I made it about 30 minutes before my appointment time. They suggested 40 minutes, but there was construction on the turnpike so I was running behind. I walked into the building and was instantly overhwelmed.

I was just about the only white woman there. And there were a LOT of people there. I walked up to a woman in what looked like a bullet-proof cubicle and waited while she had a cheery conversation about her daughter's babysitter or something and acted incredibly put out that I was speaking to her. She told me to check in at Registration. Great. Now, where was Registration..... I finally decided the cubicles (more bulletproof shields) was the blessed Registration and stood in line until it was my turn. Fortunately, the girl who checked me in was incredibly nice and made me feel less overwhelmed. She checked me in and directed me to x-ray. I waited in line to check in there and when she had me checked in, I asked her where the nearest restroom was. A pot of coffee at home and a bottle of water combined with the newness of being in a building I had never been to before had me a little....anxious. The woman cocked her head and gave me a funny look as she said, "Hmm....well, I think there's one on the other side of this horseshoe.....and there may be some down another hall....oh, but wait.....they're not using those....." and with that dismissed me and my needy bladder to sit down and wait.

I immediately sent a text to Stace and told her I really had to pee and would likely have an embarrassing accident when the squishing began if I didn't find a restroom. God bless that woman, she called me and walked me through the building to a restroom. I love her a very much lot.

I sat in the waiting area across from two women in their 50's who were utterly jubilant over their mammograms and had scheduled them for the same day and made a whole event out of it. Shopping would ensue afterwards. They were adorable. Shortly my name was called and I was taken back to the mammogram suite. The woman had me address two envelopes to myself, sign and date a paper and then told me to step behind the screen and get all topless. Now, by this point I was still not nervous about the scan itself, but worried that my lack of deodorant was going to offend the poor woman who would soon get to know me very well. The information letter said not to wear deodorant, so I complied. Apparently I could've worn it and then removed it with the moist towelettes provided, but you know me, all rule follow-y and stuff. I slipped on the little vest which could've certainly used some bedazzling or at least an applique of some sort and stepped from behind the screen, stifling a giggle as I envisioned the Great and Mighty Oz in the mammogram suite. Pay no attention to the topless woman behind the screen!

The woman was very business-like and told me she was going to put some stickers on my nipples for identification purposes. I again stifled a giggle because I never thought of my nipples needing identification. I haven't ever given them names or anything. My friend, Tanya, warned me of the stickers and said she nearly lost nipples that way and had cautioned me to only secure one edge for the safety of the sisters. Fortunately, the woman merely applied two adorable Hello Kitty bandaids and I breathed a sigh of relief that my nipples would live to see another day.

She explained the procedure, that she would do the scan horizontally and then at an angle, that the scan might be uncomfortable, but shouldn't be painful and if I had any questions to feel free to ask at any point during the process. It wasn't bad, ladies. Like I said in the first paragraph, I wouldn't want to do it every day, but it wasn't bad at all. She was very good at her job and I wouldn't have it for all the money in the world. She handled my girls in ways I'm not even sure my husband has. I only got the giggles once and that was when she was trying to move the upper plate into place to begin pressing, but the position I was in my other one kind of got in the way. I had to ....ahem....shift things to right the wrong and she chuckled which made me giggle. It didn't hurt. It wasn't all that uncomfortable really. I guess if I had to say it was anything, it could be mildly embarrassing if you're a modest person, but obviously the people who do mammographies for a living don't think twice about your breasts once you walk out the door, so to me embarrassment wasn't an issue. I mean, I guess if yours are particularly dazzling or something, they might mention them to their husband at dinner time - "Hey, Fred, you should've seen the boobies I handled today!" - but I'd say most women's average boobs are very unimpressive to a technician who handles three sets an hour for an eight-hour shift.

When she was done, the technician congratulated me on surviving my first mammogram and told me to help myself to anything in the basket on my way out. I removed the Hello Kitty bandaids, got dressed and helped myself to a pink ink pen, a pink mint, a sheet of SBE (self breast exam) stickers AND a packet of seeds that will grow - you guess it - pink flowers.

And my mother-in-law, who had watched the kids while I went to my appointment, turned about 67 shades of pink when I got home and told her the kids' and my project for the day was to go plant flower seeds in honor of my breasts out in the yard.

So ladies, go get squished.
I promise you, you will survive your first mammogram
-- and you, too, have a lot to live for.


Unknown said...

Great post, Kristen! I don't particularly enjoy them either, but don't hate them.. They're certainly preferable to dying a horrible death with cancer!lol Glad you survived the day..

Jill of All Trades said...

Good for you. Mine's coming up in a few months. My very first one they found something and then after seeing a "surgeon" who determined it was scaring I breathed a sigh of relief. I had a reduction about 3 years before that, hence the scaring. Good for you and all who do the pancake dance.

Casey said...

Way to git 'er done! I had my first one about 2 years ago (due to breast cancer showing up early in my family), and it was a piece of cake. The biggest problem for me is that my ta-tas are very NOT bodacious, so we had to scrape and pull them around a lot just so the machine could put a pinch on them. It's like I had to reach around and grab some back meat to bring into my armpit just so there was enough tissue to work with.

Got your results yet?

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