“And, I show you selected 3D imaging for your mammogram, correct?”- says the tech in a monotone voice that is all detail and data and no emotion. She hovers over her keyboard just to the right of me as I sit in my waffle white rob with the opening to the front. She is busy completing the requisite profile of me before she is to guide me over to the massive machine in the center of the room.
“Yes” I reply quietly, then “do you have any idea how much extra that would cost?” I ask knowing full well they have nothing to do with these details. It’s just that everyone that I have asked, from the appointment taker, pre-registration worker, front desk check-in clerk- has no idea. None. “Do you think it’s under $100” I say lamely. She shakes her head as she walks over to the machine to prepare it for my breast images “nope, we have nothing to do with those accounting details”. Of course she doesn’t. I knew that.
My days are so bogged down with tasks that it was a miracle I even made the time to make this appointment in the first place. I snuck out for a five minute cell phone conversation earlier this week on my way to a bathroom break, got through the appointment desk and thought I would make an appointment for about two months down the road. Usually, that’s about how long it takes to get in for an appointment. “Do you want the Minneapolis location again?” -she asks. “Oh, is there another option?” I reply. “Yes, there is St. Paul and then also Plymouth” she offers. “St. Paul works better for me” I say. “Ok- good, we can get you in to St. Paul. We have an opening this Friday at 7:45am, would that work?” Oh. Geez. “Well, ya- I suppose, yes.. I will take it.” This Friday! That was sudden. Shakes up my week a bit.
Two years ago (as I recalled earlier this week during that appointment phone call), I had a lump of some kind that warranted an immediate biopsy which turned into an aspiration of a water bubble thingy. At least that is my full memory of the sequence of events that day. That shook me up a lot. It didn’t help that the doctor wanted to invite three med students in to watch the event. There I was, arm overhead, boob exposed while these four men hovered over all my glory. I remember being so scared. Feeling so vulnerable and these men curiously watched as the doctor inserted that needle and watched the images on the computer screen. The sounds they emitted back then were like they were watching some sort of video game and were chasing an offender. Then, they gasped and breathed out- oh, yes- done – bubble zapped. Doctor explained that it was a false alarm and that all was fine in the end. I ended up taking the rest of that day off… and knew that the little metal marker they inserted into the left side of my left breast still sits there marking the place where all that activity happened.
I was meant to have a mammogram a year ago and received two reminders, and just have not gotten around to it. Partly, I suppose, denial. I listened to a podcast on denial earlier this week – it was a story on This American Life about the mind – and how it can work against you. And in that story, a man with Parkinson’s purposefully handled the earlier stages of his disease in denial. He didn’t want to focus on the illness, didn’t want his world to be all about the details of what was looking ahead for him. So he ended up acting as if he didn’t have Parkinson’s disease – at least until he couldn’t act as if anymore.
That’s kind of how it is with my little metal marker. I pretend it’s not there. I pretend that I am not afraid of the dreaded C word even though it lingers in the background of my daily life- just about every day. I am a bit of a coward that way.
I hear about all sorts of people dealing with illness in a very brave sort of way. Chin up always. No complaints. Selfless. Honorable. Exemplary.
I am afraid I would likely not be any of these things if the dreaded C word were to enter my world in a more personal and meaningful way.
Too many people in my life have died of cancer. And, I know that a lot of the risk factors are layered around my body as an invitation. I should eat more vegetables- leafy green ones, all the time- piles of them each and every day. I should have breakfast, lunch and dinner on greens- Kale, Spinach, Broccoli. I should lose weight- lots of it. It’s making me vulnerable to the C word each and every minute that I breathe.
So all of this is essentially dangling around me like a chain necklace. A really heavy one that swings back and forth with this heavy padlock fixed to the links – making it impossible to remove the bindings and enslavement that I experience when it comes to fear and dread and more fear and in the background, under the surface- tears.
So, snapping back to that moment in the imaging room with the tech. She has me move my body with feet forward under the machine. She steps on a big foot pedal under the metal shelf like table that is to hold my breast- bringing it to a more manageable height. She replaces a clear plastic rectangular tray with another – and snaps it in firmly. This one perhaps bigger than the last- to hold my more generous glands. The paddles that are pushed into place to serve as mashers. “We will start with your left breast” she says. She moves in with her right hand to help me grab and place the gland on top of the shelf and then proceeds to direct my right arm to hold this part of the machine and then asks me to turn my head to the right, then asks me to hold my right breast out of the way (because, yes, they are big enough to be in the way) – there is more tucking, pushing and prodding and then she presses the foot pedal again which brings the machine downward – squishing and squishing and then more squishing. “Breath she says, until I tell you not to” she moves swiftly to the side of the room where her station is to push necessary buttons that will create the images. “Breathe” she says— and again “breathe” … and a pause and then “stop breathing” I hear clicks and whirls and other sounds – then ” breathe” she says… I breathe in and out all in an effort to ease the pain from the crushing paddle that has not only pressure on my breast but my collar bone and my shoulder as well- it’s a full deal .. and then again “stop breathing” I hold my breath, and finally “breathe” and the machine releases its pressure on me and the system shifts away giving way to my front left side and she says “step back” and I pull back and need to lift my breast so that the sweat does not result in a skin tear. And I am done with the first image. This process is repeating three more times- giving two distinctive angles to each breast.
Then, we are done. She states that if we need more images, they will call me. Otherwise, I will simply receive results in the mail and my doctor will receive copies. That was it. I ask her “two years ago, I had this lump that had to be aspirated- nothing like that showed up right away this time?” She looks perplexed. “Two years ago, hmm” she looks at my chart. Then she says “I see you had an aspiration done in 2013.”
2013? How did that end up being four years ago! I can’t believe it! I have been so irresponsible with my health- four years. Fear grips me… but then momentary relief- nothing came up in initially- so – that’s positive, right? Think Positive!! Not so much drama- chill out. I respond “oh, ok… I will wait to hear then”- she points to the door “make a left out the door- lockers are straight ahead”. And, I exit the room.
The Minneapolis location is much more spa like than the St. Paul location. Here, it’s all quick and business and done. In Minneapolis for the last 3 mammograms, I have had a cup of tea, there is this lovely harp music, they smile and they guide gently. If one didn’t know better, one would think one was in a women’s retreat spa center. Here, a bit cold and impersonal. Faster though- in and out. Done. Not sure which I prefer.
So, it’s done.
I had taken the morning off in case of disaster. Instead, I am out of there by 8:30am. I decide to retain my morning off to go have a coffee on Grand Avenue near the Cathedral. To breathe in and out and do some writing. To pamper myself. Work will come soon enough when I sign in from my home office after lunch. No- for now, I need this time to gather myself. Might even pop into the yarn shop down the street when they open at 10am.
I am grateful this 3D imaging is over. It was truly painful- but only lasted in total about fifteen minutes. Manageable and good that it’s done. I should have my results within 7-10 days she had said. And I will find out eventually how much the 3D imaging cost extra… I could call their accounting department I guess – but perhaps I will employ denial here too- until I get the bill.
For now, I just need to wait and not hold my breathe… breathe … in and out… in and out.