My friend Heather wrote a story about her first mammogram, and, in the name of breast cancer awareness, she is donating it to me so I can publish it for you. Her words follow, and see that photo to the right? That’s her — the girl I first met when we were something like 25 years old, and, now, we’re something like 40.
Oh, and the “cancer-surviving friend” in the story — that’s me!
My First Mammogram
I just had my second mammogram. I really don’t mind going to the doctor or dentist – I like staying on top of my health, but I did skip last year’s mammogram and I think I know why.
Two years ago, I went for my first “mammo.” People will probably not believe this, but I wasn’t nervous or worried about the pain that sometimes accompanies getting “squished.” I figured that if it hurt, I would take some deep breaths and get through it. As my cancer-surviving friend said, getting squished may hurt, but cancer hurts more.
But first, let me put that time in a little context. I was getting my mammo at the start of a new school year. Although I was heading into my sixth year of teaching, I was thrown into teaching photography. I am a skilled artist, but I confess, I am not a photographer. I don’t even have a background in photography. Zippo, ziltch, nadda. So I was about to learn in front of 16-year-olds. I know, fun, right? It was one of the few times in my life when I felt like I didn’t know which end was up. Everybody kept telling me I was a great art teacher and I would be good. But like all teachers, I like to know my stuff really, super double extra well so that I can teach the hell out of it. Where do you start when you don’t know anything? And another confession: I have no passion for it. I appreciate it; my partner is a great photographer, my dad had a darkroom in our basement, but that particular artform does almost nothing for me. It makes no sense, I know.
So like a good 39-year-old, I went in for my mammogram and was greeted and fondled by a very nice woman. I got squished, and it was fine. She said that sometimes people have to come in a second time, but that 80% of the time it is just to get some better shots. I thought that made sense. And I remember thinking I could never do her job. I am scared to death of my new position, but I could never work as a technician. Sometimes you have to smile at the patient knowing that something is abnormal in those images.
I got the call that I needed to come in for some more images. This time, I was more nervous because I had been trying all week to plan lessons for something I had no clue about. When my students’ film doesn’t come out, why doesn’t it? And if you have ever shot photography, is it me or is learning aperture a little tricky? Oh, and darkroom chemicals, how do those work? I felt like a fraud. Also that week, when I went into our finance office to order some supplies, I looked at Cheryl’s desk full of purchase orders, mounds of paperwork-filled columns and numbers and stuff, and said, “I could never do your job.” She said chuckling, “well, I could never be a teacher, so we’re even.”
I was feeling so scattered that when I showed up for the second mammogram, I realized I had forgotten my wallet when I went to get my money for the co-pay. They took me anyway, and when I was in the room with the technician, she said, “I will let you know that this is not going to be very pleasant.” Ugh, okay. I thought to myself, just breath, it’s all you can do. She was right. It was not pleasant. But it still wasn’t really the worst pain I have ever experienced. I used it as a time to practice breathing.
But it still happened. I panicked. I realized that she was trying to get a particular shot. There was an area of my breast that she kept squeezing the heck out of. I closed my eyes and thought about my breathing. I assume she had no idea that I was concerned. I went back to the dressing room to get dressed and was on the verge of tears. Just as I finished pulling my shirt over my head, a woman with a beautiful, warm face and handshake said in a run-on sentence, “Hi Heather, I am Doctor Bryant we will see you next year everything is fine.” When she left, I thought, I could NEVER do HER job. I went out to my car and wept. I was both relieved and upset about the upcoming year. Somehow I would get through it. Maybe I would use it as a year to breath.