About five weeks ago I found a lump on my breast. I was doing a monthly random self-exam and felt something unusual. I’ve never really known what I’ve been feeling for – breasts are pretty lumpy, so how do you know which lump is a bad lump? – I’ve just always felt for something different. Five weeks ago I felt something different.
Over that next week I felt “my friends” a total of approximately 286 times each. Anxiety heightened, I finally called my doctor to request an exam. I got in the following week. I spent that week (Thanksgiving week) worrying and fretting and being depressed and miserable and not even able to tweet because I can’t tweet when I’m depressed.
I went to the doctor and she felt the lump too. Barely. She thought it felt like just a cyst. Cyst? What’s a cyst? What’s just a cyst?
She gave me a referral for a mammogram, of which I wasn’t able to get an appointment for another two and a half weeks. I didn’t tell anyone about the lump except Steve and my sister. I didn’t even mention it to my parents. I didn’t want people to needlessly worry, nor did I want anyone to invalidate my fretting and freaking out. I wanted to fret and freak out in private, ad nauseam.
The morning of the mammogram, Steve was to watch the kids while I went to the hospital to get pictures of “my friends” taken. The only problem was that Steve forgot about my appointment (which he apologized for profusely – like really profusely) and went to work, which is an hour away. I texted Steve. He didn’t get my message until it was too late. I would have to take my four-year-old, Autumn, with me and leave my sons at home. I could take the iPad to occupy her, but it still added a whole new dimension to my already heightened level of anxiety.
The dam wall I had been building that held back my emotions from spilling over, was having to hold back even more now. Not only was I fretting over getting my first mammogram, after finding a lump, but I would also need to get my daughter dressed, fed, and out the door, leave my two sons at home alone, expose my daughter to my boobs and for sure, have to answer a number of questions, and I was absolutely convinced she would act out and disobey or at the very least, blow raspberries in the faces of everyone that spoke to her, as a sign of pure disrespect, as has been typical of late. I was stoked.
Before leaving the house, I grabbed the iPad and noticed the battery was almost dead.
I would have to charge it on our way to the hospital, a full 12-minute drive and hope it would last beyond the waiting room.
We got in the car and I noticed the gas tank was on empty. At that point, I was sure I was going to wreck the car on the way to the hospital and I welcomed it.
We safely arrived at the hospital, checked in, and a friendly woman led us through a door marked, “Women ONLY beyond this point.” I immediately felt special and elite…and liked it. I was in “The Club.” “The Boob Club.” She showed me to a changing room, with a carpeted floor and nice furnishings, and handed me a red wrap-around gown that reached to just below my waist. Fortunately, we only had to undress from the waist up. I changed into the gown and put all my belongings into a free locker and took the key. It really was a club.
Autumn and I walked into the waiting room, which was like a scene from The Handmaid’s Tale, where four other women sat, all wearing the exact same red gown as mine.
I was sure they were wondering why anyone would bring along a four-year-old to have a mammogram, so I made sure to avoid eye contact with every one of them as we sat in the only two empty chairs in the very center of the room, encircled by all the other ladies.
I looked up and down, around the room. It turned out that not only was this place a club, but it was a café. They had free coffee, free Goldfish crackers and free Lorna Doone cookies. There were magazines and a festive Christmas tree. There was even a machine that served up free warm blankets if you were cold. I wasn’t cold. I was sweating. Even more than normal since I wasn’t allowed to wear any deodorant for this little field trip.
To avoid eye contact with the other ladies, I looked at the TV in the corner. It played a show called Lockdown, a reality TV show about prisons and jails, which was exactly what I needed to calm my anxiety.
I looked up and noticed a sign that read, “We Compress because We Care!” That’s when I began my Lamaze breathing, right there in the waiting room.
“She can’t come in the room?” I was a little embarrassed.
“No. There’s radiation in there. She’ll have to wait here.”
“I can’t leave her here. She’s four.” The dam was beginning to break. “I’m gonna have to reschedule.”
“She won’t stay here?”
“No, she’ll take off.”
The dam broke.
I started crying right there in the waiting room, by the festive Christmas tree, all over my Handmaid’s gown and Lorna Doone cookies. I couldn’t control it. I felt like such a burden – a burden to the technicians, to my husband, to everyone.
“Oh…Well, I don’t want you to have to reschedule. Hold on and let me see if someone in the back can watch her.” The technician darted into the other room as I sopped up my tears with six tissues and a cookie wrapper. She came back and said that Autumn could sit and color at the table in the tech room and they would watch her. Thank you, God.
Note: I’ve learned a couple times, when I’ve been in difficult situations, that if you just cry, people will bend over backwards to help you. It’s a fact. So just let the tears flow, yo.
I walked into a dimly lit room, still drying my tears, and was told to untie my gown. She led me to a large white machine and lowered a tray down. She lifted my left boob onto it. This woman knew her way around boobs. She lifted, pulled, and pushed it, like she’d obviously been around a lot of boobs. It was her bid-ness. Then she lowered a clear plastic plate over the top of my left boob.
You know when you go to Chipotle and you say you want a burrito, and they put the tortilla in that press and slam it down? That’s what she did to my boob. Even after she smashed it, she turned the little knob to squeeze it some more, just for good measure. I really didn’t think that was necessary.
Attached to the plastic plate was a plastic shield, which the side of my face had no choice, but to be crushed up against, rendering me absolutely immobile from the waist up. At that point, I glanced down and saw under the clear plastic tray a peach-colored blob that resembled a flattened water balloon. I didn’t even know my boob could do that. I always thought if I handled them in that manner that that would be cause enough for cancer.
She took at least four photos, I don’t even know for sure, it’s all a hazy blur. As “my friends” were being tortured, I had little else on my mind, other than their freedom. Each picture took a few seconds and the whole procedure lasted less than five minutes.
I was led out of the room, got Autumn, not without her requisite sassing, of course, and went back to the waiting room and waited. The highlight of the day was when a chatty woman in her fifties said I looked young, like 34. With a coy smile, I revealed to her that I was actually 42. At that moment, I loved that woman more than anyone else in the whole wide world.
The technician came back in and told me that she would need to get three more photos because “my friends” were dense. I went back in and she put my right boob back in the Chipotle tortilla torture chamber.
Then I was led to the ultrasound room, which I needed since this was a diagnostic mammogram versus a preventative mammogram. Autumn was able to join me for that portion. As you can imagine, she sat in a chair in a corner with the iPad and it’s dwindling battery, asking curious questions as I lay on my back, propped up on a cushion to maximize my right boob’s reach to the ceiling as a woman slathered warm KY all over my friend and rubbed it in with what looked like a square microphone. For 10 minutes.
“Why are you doing that, Mama? What are you doing, Mama?”
“Oh, just getting checked out.” I called, discreetly holding my hand up to block her view, but it really blocked absolutely nothing.
Then flip, left friend, repeat.
The technician finished the ultrasound and said the radiologist would look at it right away and let me know the results. The results showed a benign cyst in my left breast, which they do nothing about – they just leave it. It’s nothing to worry about, quite common. The right breast had an area that they couldn’t see well, or something like that, and they wanted me to follow up with another mammogram in six months. That made me a little nervous because I wasn’t even there for my right friend.
The technicians bid us farewell and gave us a free purple scarf, to commemorate our time at The Club, which Autumn was excited about and put on immediately, but then dropped in the parking lot and walked all over it with her dirty snow boots. I dropped her off at preschool, late, and cried on the way home.
In the early evening, I was preparing the kids to walk out the door for a class when my doctor called and suggested I see a breast surgeon just to be safe – as a precaution. She said they very often suggest patients have their records reviewed by a surgeon as a precaution because they’re the experts. She wasn’t alarmed, but wanted to cover all possible bases. It still made me nervous.
We were late for the kid’s class, where we were meeting Steve after work. I was exhausted. I felt like I had been dragged by a team of sled dogs through a muddy field for 12 hours. I rehashed the entire experience to him over foot-longs at Subway and cried again. At that point, I was crying tears of relief that the day was almost over, Steve could take over parenting, and I could focus on the fact that for at least right now, “my friends” appeared to be pretty healthy.