I am a 30-year-old female, and aside from my asthma, I am healthy. I go to the dentist 2x a year, the dermatologist 1x a year, the lady doctor 1x a year, and I get a full physical each fall. I take vitamins every day, I wear SPF, I exercise and recently went vegetarian. I mean, I bought yoga pants at Lulu Lemon for goodness sake, I am healthy and diligent. So imagine my surprise when my doctor went "poking around" a few weeks back and looked at me dead in the face, saying, "I'd like you to have this lump checked out." GULP. Lump? Really?
How ironic, timely and appropriate that my very first excursion in breast health happened to be during the month dedicated to just that section of the female form. And for starters, I'd like to dedicate this blog to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and recognize that because of all of those that suffered from this terrible disease, I am able to reap the benefits of diligent breast care. Is this embarrassing to write about? Hell to the yes! But I think it's important enough to share with Chicago and my family and friends.
And so, I called and made an appointment the very next day. They not only wanted to perform a full mammogram, but an ultrasound as well. My asthma was something I had gotten used to controlling and never rushed when it came to follow-ups, but this particular request for an additional look into something like a lump, I mean, your heart can't help but skip a beat, your breath can't help but quicken, your face can't help but pale a little.
My appointment was at 7:45 am on Wednesday, October 17th. My loving and fantastic husband accompanied me, because as much as I tried to put on the brave "I wear the pants" face, I could only fake it so much. I actually stood staring into my closet for longer than normal. What does one even wear to something like this? Something loose for easy access? Well then I'd have to wear cute shoes...and what about my bra? Should I try to wear something cute or do they even notice these things? I was totally lost, and honestly, focusing on such a trivial thing such as a bra helped shift my focus from scary to normal.
Once in the car, my husband tried to talk to me about normal things, like the Bears, work, our dog Clark, etc., but I was having none of it. It felt as though I had a white noise machine on inside my head. It was fuzzy and grainy and I just don't remember what we talked about. I was too worried about my girls and that scary mammogram machine I'd heard horror stories about...and of course the results on the other side of the scary machine.
Upon arrival to the office, I was called back in no time. I guess having an appointment at 7:45 am was to my benefit. I had hoped it would work out like that. By now, everything was heightened - I was speaking in "supers" inside my head. Walking to the waiting room, I was "super nervous" and had no idea what to expect. We arrived and there were already two older ladies in "super hideous" wrinkly magenta robes sitting patiently with last month's Us Weekly. The nurse directed myself and some other ladies to mini dressing rooms where she handed us our "super hideous" gowns and told us to place our personal items in the "super teeny" lockers inside the waiting room. She started to walk away and then stopped herself, saying, "Don't forget to wipe off your deodorant - wipes can be found in the changing rooms." WHAT?!? I'm already sweating bullets with my nerves and now I have to wipe away my anti-smell protectant? I already knew I was going to be "super smelly."
And wipe I did. The wipes were cold and smelled as sterile as the place I was in. I took everything off that was above my waist and wrapped myself in the "super sexy" gown I had been handed. I figured calling it sexy instead of hideous would make me feel better, but it didn't help that I was annoyed at it's size - the average woman is NOT 500 pounds, thanks, and I held myself in as I walked out towards one of the lockers.
I took a seat to wait, ready to cry. My pits were wet and cold, I was shaking with nerves, and I had already read all of the Us Weeklys available. I tried to close my eyes and force calm breaths, and after a few minutes of that, I opened them and started looking at the other women around the room. "Well, they are all at least 10 years older than me, great," I thought. At first I felt worse because I knew I technically wasn't supposed to be here for another 10 years. But then I noticed on two of the ladies their hair...that it didn't lay quite naturally, that I couldn't see a scalp line...and I realized they had a damn good reason to be there. These women were survivors - they were no strangers to these hideous gowns and were used to hearing bad news on the other side of the "super scary" machine. It's amazing how quickly my brain snapped to attention and I started having an internal argument with myself about how "super selfish" and "super immature" I was being about this whole thing. I was lucky my doctor was thorough enough to send me here for a double-check vs. it being a "too late" situation. By the time my name was called, while still "super nervous " and "super sweaty", I was in a "super appreciative" state of mind.
The private room I was taken to offered my first intro to the "super scary" machine. I guess it wasn't so bad in person - I felt like I could take it, maybe, if we ever got into a fight outside a bar. The woman I was with asked me what the problem was - apparently I left that part blank on the sheet I filled out. "Well, my doctor found a uh, thing...in my, you know, thing." I couldn't find my words, clearly. "Which side?" she asked. I pointed to my left. I guess I figured my doctor would've handled that whole piece of it in her notes when making the request. After that my new friend went right to work and boom, gown off, maneuvering me into the "super scary" machine. There were 4 images taken, two for each side, and yes, they do squish you pretty damn good and yes, it is as cold and uncomfortable and demeaning as you might expect. I took a peak at one point and almost burst out laughing, the reality of it all, the flatness of it all, and I had to hold it my throat, lest I got reprimanded for being "super squirmy" and ruining the images.
From there, it was off to a new room to continue on with the reading of the mammogram and the ultrasound portion. And wouldn't you know it, not 5 minutes later, in walked a MAN in a lovely colored shirt - reminded me of fruit stripes gum. I was already writing this blog in my head, it couldn't get any better than this. He "ultrasounded" me for a few minutes, told me all was clear, and wished me well between now and 40. It was that swift. "Super swift". Made me want a cigarette, quite honestly. And a strong beverage.
It was back to the dressing room to change, but not without receiving the standard parting gift of a plastic shower thingie with instructions on when and how to check yourself every month. My new friend smiled at me sweetly and that was the end of our relationship. I changed quickly and walked out of the room, but not without taking a quick peak at "all my ladies" - there was a new sort of respect I felt I earned that day. And I said a quick prayer for all of them, hoping their results mirrored mine.
PHEW. Sigh of relief, all is well. As I sunk into the car, I almost burst into tears from the weight of the gratitude I felt. To think, I sat in a seat and shared a "super scary" machine with women who got bad, terrible, horrific news on the other side. Who knew not to wear deodorant to this appointment because they'd done it so much. Who didn't worry about the bra they were going to wear, but the headpiece they were going to place on their heads.
As scary as this experience was, I wanted to share it with all of you, not to make you feel sorry for my trip, but....
...to prep all of those that have never had one on what to expect , i.e. no deoderant
...to highlight that it's actually not as bad as you fear it to be
...to remember those that are suffering from this awful disease
...to remind everyone that women are your mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, co-workers and friends
...to stress that getting regularly checked is so important and can save lives
Thanks for listening.