17 November 2006

Coming soon from Fisher-Price

My First Mammogram!

Cancer runs through my mother's family like a river. (Dad's side has dibs on heart disease, fyi.) Every woman in my mother's family has had cancer except my mother, my sister, my two nieces, and me. Most of them had breast cancer, although one particularly unlucky great-aunt had brain cancer, and they pretty much all died of it. (Let me point out right now that the last cancer death among Mom's blood relatives was in the 1960s. Cancer treatment is much, much better now.) My aunt Dotty had lymphoma in the 90s is and doing fine now.

So with that we were concerned but not surprised when Gram was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988. Well, that's not entirely true, as Gram's diagnosis was how I happenend to find out about all the previous cancer in the family. I was surprised, but we all were concerned. (Have I ever mentioned that family-wide communications have never been a strong point among any of my relatives?)

I talked to Gram the night before she went in for surgery. She was scheduled for exploratories on both breasts with the agreement that, should the doctors think it necessary, they would go ahead and do a mastectomy. Or two. I told her that I was thinking of her and praying for her and I guessed she was pretty scared. "Oh, well, you know," she said, "I'm 78 and I'm a widow. It's not like I need them anymore." Which is a better attitude than I would have gone in with, let me tell you.

In any event, Gram had a double mastectomy and I scheduled an appointment with my doctor who recommeded that I have a mammogram done so that we'd have a baseline in case I ever found anything suspicious in the future.

In general mammograms are described by a lot of e-mail and internet humor as being similar to lying naked on the garage floor while someone backs the car over one's breasts. One at a time. Mine was a lot better than that. Not because I followed any special instructions or anything, but just by pure luck, I guess. I was probably there at a good time of the month and a slow time for the imaging center. And I had a good technician.

So here's what happens: You take off your nice, warm, comfy top and put on the top half of a paper gown. You wait a while in a room that isn't very warm and then the technician comes in and has you stand in front of the mammo-machine which looks as though it was designed by George Lucas. The tech estimates your height and lines up the (cold) glass plate with the bottom of the breast as you stand with your back sharply arched like a little girl who is pretending that she has "boobies."

The first breast is placed on the glass and the top glass is lowered onto it and the breast is compressed between the two plates.

This just looks weird.

Women will wear all sorts of clothes that mash their bodies into all kinds of shapes and arrangements, but nothing we do in the name of fashion (and I work with someone who has a small ring through her upper gum between her front teeth) looks anything as weird as having one's breasts mashed horizontally between two glass plates. So - naturally - being me, I asked her if she was sure that they would "fluff back up."

She laughed, which amazed me because I assumed that she got that sort of question as often as tall people are asked about basketball. And she did what people always do when they are genuinely amused: she repeated the phrase that amused her and giggled some more. As she was taking the film, actually.

So after we took the horizontal pictures, I think we took some vertical pictures. And my girly bits fluffed back up just fine.

Most of the pictures came out just fine, but one had a blur which they figured was probably just a smudge on the film, but I was asked to come in to repeat that shot anyway. And, you know, there is simply no way to ask a woman whose grandmother just had a double mast to come back in without scaring her, even though they said "probably nothing" several times. So I promptly went back in for my retake. Which was completely fine. It was nothing. Smudgey film probably.

I've had several more mammograms since then and they've all been pretty stress-free.

And, you know, because they have all been so nice and healthy, and even though I don't have my camera smile in them, I guess we can count them among the few pictures of me that I don't hate.


David Gorsline said...

Keywords for this post:


Thanks for over-sharing.

Maureen said...

Oh yeah, no fun! First you get squashed flat horizontally, then they get a diagonal pic. I've been getting these things since my mom was diagnosed w/ breast cancer in 1992. Someday, someone will get rich coming up with a heater for those plates! Please, someone, a heater for those plates!

Had my first funky pics last year. You bet that's a scary wait when someone in your family has had breast cancer! Fibrous tissue, nothing more, but you can bet I made a point of telling the "photographer" at this year's appointment.

Glad it was nothing - may it always be so!

Anonymous said...

Ladies, we're all urged over & over again to look out for breast cancer, and to a lesser extent, have an annual pap to check for cervical or uterine cancer, possibly ovarian...

But lets not forget there are many many difference kind of cancers out there and we're all vulnerable to them, no matter our age or sex(well, except not prostrate for women, but there have been rare cases of breat cancer in men) or even fitness & general health.

So imagine my shock that after years of hearing & knowing that women my age are susceptible to breast cancer (& lung cancer if we smoked or lived with a smoker), I got a rare cancer that has nothing to do with well-known carcinomas.

I have a soft tissue sarcoma - a malignant tumor arising from my muscle - something that affects only 9500 Americans every year.

If that bulge had been on my breast, you bet I would have jumped & run to my dr.
But I shrugged off the lump on my leg as some torn muscle & didn't have it looked at for weeks.
So now I'm slated for radiation, major surgery, & yes, chemo.

So my lesson to you ALL is not just to focus on your beast or lungs - if you have a strange lump ANYWHERE on your body (even your butt), have it X-rayed & MRI-ed & CAT-scanned right away!!