Tales From the Mammogram

As published in The Rye Record on October 25, 2013

It’s mammogram day. My nerves are a stretched thin as I drive to Greenwich Hospital. All of the songs on the radio are either aggravating or by Pink, a color that’s been getting on my nerves since I woke up. I try to remind myself how happy and relieved I’ll be in a few hours. But right now I know this can go two ways. I focus my anxiety outward: Stupid breast cancer. Stupid pink.

The pink-clad lady at the reception desk asks my name and birthday and then sends me to the registration office where I’m asked my name and birthday. My wristband prints out with my maiden name, which I like because it seems like this whole ordeal is happening to a much younger and more carefree woman. She feels like someone else.

I’m directed to a pink robe. I’m not sure if they’re always pink or if this is part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. If you have a TV, a newspaper, the Internet or a kid who plays soccer, you’ve probably seen a lot of pink lately. The amount of money and attention that is directed toward breast cancer research in October is inspiring. The entire NFL looks like a line of girls waiting to get into the American Girl Store, pink gloved and pink shoed. It seems to be a cause that transcends gender and age. Everybody’s been affected by breast cancer in some way. Everybody cares.

But here’s the thing: I am not the target audience of the pink campaign. I am not someone who needs more breast cancer awareness. For me it’s like if I held a month long campaign to raise my son’s awareness about the monster that lives in his closet. Trust me, he’s hyper-aware. And the more attention we give it, the less he sleeps.

I am courteous but suspicious with my breasts, like I am with salesmen who ring the doorbell at dinnertime. I want to be respectful, but I don’t actually know what danger they have in store for me. I regularly thank them for their prior service, what with looking good in the 80s and then feeding my kids later on. And I ask them to stay on my side.

Someone once described a mammogram like this: you place your breast between two metal planks and then an elephant stomps on top to squeeze you into a pancake. I’d like to put that person in charge of re-describing everything that is currently painted in a falsely shiny manner – children’s birthday parties, camping, the prom. Today the elephant’s name is Ellen. She asks my birthdate again and checks it against her records.  She asks me to stand in the most awkward possible way and tells me, unnecessarily, not to breathe. Funny, I haven’t breathed since I left the house.

When we are done, I am told to wait for fifteen minutes. I really only have two ways of coping with stress so, as there seems to be no one here to offer me a pink cocktail, I start writing this article. Eventually, another technician comes to get me and wants to know my birthday again. “Are you guys throwing me a party?” I ask. She smiles at me tentatively and explains that she is just confirming my identity. It was a joke, I want to say. I’m freaking out here, I want to say. I just nod.

Next is the sonogram where you can actually look at what’s going on in there as they go. From what I can tell there is not one thing in my breasts that doesn’t look suspicious. She clicks screenshots way too many times, measures way too many black circles. My eyes dart back and forth between the screen and her face, wishing she had Botox so her brow would quit furrowing. When she has finished, she smiles and tells me to relax, the doctor will be right in to discuss my results. Relax? Really?

I am in the room alone for between three and a thousand minutes, I can’t tell.  And this is when I allow myself to go there. I play the whole thing out in my mind. I decide how I’m going to tell my family. I know exactly who I’m going to call to find the best doctors, and I vow to walk in the Avon walk next October if I make it through this. In fact, I make so many deals with God that we’ve both forgotten most of them.

And then the kindest thing happens. The door opens and before the doctor has even stepped foot in the room, she says “It’s all perfect!” I am immediately released from this hell of my own creation. (Really, is there any other kind?) I thank her and the technician and the other technician and the pink-gowned ladies in the waiting room and finally my breasts themselves as I get dressed. This was totally worth it.

I am light as I stop at reception to schedule my 2014 appointment. She has an opening on Halloween and I take it. Why not? It’s the scariest day of the year anyway.