It was a clear, sunny morning in The Woodlands, Texas. The air was cold enough to warrant a hoodie, jeans, and my favorite faux-leather boots, not enough for a jacket too.
The hospital was fine as most hospitals go. It was square and colorless, with wide, clean windows and smooth tan walls.
“Hullo!” I say cheerily to the woman behind the desk. She smiles and looks me up in the system as she’s helping another patient sign in. She was professional, pleasant, able to multitask with ease. ‘Where am I?’ I think as I sit down in the posh waiting room at the MD Anderson Breast Center Care offices with Memorial Hermann.
I fill out my form, hand it back and wait. After three songs and five pages pages of my book (American Eden by Victoria Johnson) they call me to the intake area.
The woman behind the desk was friendly and efficient, and I gamely fill out more forms.
When I go back to the last waiting room, the one where we all sit in robes and pretend we’re at a spa, I drink coffee they’ve provided and look around me. I can see effort has been made to make it feel spa-like. I’m sitting in a large open area with soft, comfy chairs. My white bathrobe was in a warmer until I put it on. There’s free coffee and tea. I’m impressed until I go over and there’s no tea but English breakfast, and of the 12 drawers of coffee, they’re all empty but one, dark roast. Bah.
When I sit down in the soft comfy spa chair I notice there’s a rip in the cushion, on the right where it meets the right armrest. It seems effort was made initially, but follow-up has been lax at best? The paintings on the wall are nice. It’s a marsh, could have been Amherst, a small town not far from where I grew up.
Of the seven women here I’m probably the youngest. Forty is the base-line year, the time to get your first so we have something to compare it to. Breast cancer rates drop after 50, usually around menopause. I’m not too worried here, if you know me well you know I went through premature menopause at 18 and with my low levels of estrogen I’m not likely to have to worry about this kind of cancer, at least.
I digress. Most of the women are older, a few my age. One lady about ten years older than me, bald head wrapped in a stylish head band smiles at me on her way out. I almost chase her down, wait, no, I should be the one smiling at YOU in encouragement! But she’s gone.
I am called quickly into the scanning area. It’s a younger woman with a few small tattoos peeking out of her long sleeves and under her neckline. I can’t tell what they are, a heart around a sword, maybe. I admit it’s my first one, she tells me what to expect. A pressure-pain but not sharp needle-pain. One picture about 5-6 seconds on each breast, two different angles.
“Hold your breath,” she calls out. As if I needed the reminder. She’s got my right boob squished in a vise. I’m not breathing until this thing lets up.
I’m thinking about Angelina Jolie, about how she went through this very thing, probably in a much fancier hospital in LA, and then she went through everything after including total removal and breast reconstruction. I’m amazed again at her chutzpah, her bravery. Thank you Angelina!
I’m also thinking of a friend who I just found out had breast cancer in her late forties. I will not name names, obv.
Anyway, she had gone through the diagnosis, chemo, breast removal and reconstruction and is now doing well. She’d gone in for a routine mammogram, and it literally saved her life. She’s got two youngish kids – under 12 – and she is the reason I agreed to do this myself.
I know if you’re my age, 35-45, you think…no. I don’t wanna. And I would be the first person to say…I get it. But listen to me now…if you love anyone in your life, a mom, a dad, a daughter, an aunt, you need to get this done. People are counting on you. It’s just a baseline. You won’t need to do this again for two, maybe even three years.
Does it hurt? I mean, squishing your boob one at a time between two plexiglass plates isn’t awesome but, it’s better than the alternative.
The tech who did my mammogram was efficient and funny. She was like…’Do you want to see your boobs?’ and I was like…’Yeah!’ I got to see what they look like in 3-D- which was pretty cool. At the end of the day, I can be a woman without my breasts, but I can’t be anything if I’m dead.
On my way out there was a woman sitting in one of these comfy chairs with no hair and a black hat. I used to wear a black hat too on my bald-head when I was 17 and I was struck by memories – she could have been me, twenty years ago. She was crying a little, into the phone. I wanted to reach out to her but, of course, I didn’t. I wanted to hug her and tell her everything was going to be okay.
I didn’t because, she was on the phone and she didn’t meet my eyes but I’m telling you, whoever you are that’s reading this…everything’s going to be okay. And knowing is always better than not knowing…trust me.
That’s it – this was pretty heavy but I know you can handle it…because you’re a woman, and you’ve handled plenty of harder things before this.
If you’re a man…I’m confused but stoked. Drop me a line and tell me how you found this post. Love you guys, eh!?