I turned 40 in January, and my insurance sent me a postcard telling me I could get a mammogram now—for free. So I did. I’m not going to lie, the free part was enticing, not to mention all the billboards and TV commercials around town about my local hospital’s new 3D mammography. I have nice breasts, but in 3D, I imagined they would be pretty stellar. What I did not imagine, was the letter I received two days later asking me to come for a follow up.
The mammogram itself was a lot less terrifying than I had pictured. I had this vision of two stainless steel plates clamping down on the sensitive tissue of my breast and flattening them like Wile E. Coyote meeting an anvil. It was not that. There was some flattening, but not that severe. There were a few comedic moments— when the technician took a look at what God has endowed me with and silently went for the largest plate they had hanging on the wall. Or when she tried to make me feel more comfortable by telling me she preferred working with larger breasted women. But, really, who doesn’t?
The mammography machines (3D or otherwise) are meant for women with C cup breasts, at best. The size of the platform where you set your breasts seems sizable enough, until you lower the plate from above and everything spreads out. If you’re in to food metaphors, imagine an ice cream sandwich on a warm day. The technician had to get a bit creative, and take pictures from different angles in order to get a full set. Once a new tactic was devised, it didn’t take long to complete. The technician was very kind, and very efficient. I filled my address out on the provided envelope and was told I would have my results in a few days. I then went to social media to encourage other women to take advantage of their over 40, free boob pictures courtesy of Obamacare.
Two days later I got a letter in the mail, the envelope addressed in my own hand. It simply stated that the radiologist would like to take some more pictures. It scared me. I made an appointment to have an ultrasound on my left breast. For two days my anxiety level rose. My husband kept assuring me it would be okay. I kept telling myself it was just my large breasts and their natural density that made the pictures blurry or something. The ultrasound revealed a lump, and a biopsy was scheduled.
Another two days passed before the biopsy. They seemed very long. I told a friend. Her mother, also a friend, had battled breast cancer. It was in her left breast. I briefly though it was an omen, a sign, a warning—or worse, random bad luck. The biopsy process was not pleasant, but it did not hurt. The ultrasound images of the biopsy needle moving in and out of the mass were kind of fascinating. The doctor explained they would place a Titanium marker in the mass to indicate it had been biopsied, and then take another quick mammogram photo to document its placement. (Imagine getting your dog micro chipped.) I made a joke about it being a souvenir—the doctor did not laugh, but the tech did. Being the ultimate ham, I then mentioned that the least they could do was make the marker magnetic. Then I would have somewhere to hang my keys in a pinch. Again the doctor did not laugh. He looked at the tech and said, “No one’s ever said that before.” I figured I had misread the room.
It was more than two days before I got the biopsy results. Not many more, but enough to turn me into a pinched, headached version of my usual self. The moment I heard the word benign, rivers of tears rolled down my face.
I am not the only woman who has ever gone through this, nor will I be the last, but while you are in the moment, it feels like you are the main character in a bad movie—one that when straight to VHS because it wasn’t good enough for DVD.
The point of this post—I don’t really know. It just feels good to get it out there.