The Mammojammagram

I’m undergoing a bunch of diagnostic procedures over the next few weeks. Some are to determine the reason for ongoing girl pain accompanied by other not so fun symptoms and some are to catch me up on the annual girl stuff I skipped because I had no health insurance for two years. (I don’t recommend following that course of inaction).

First up: the mammogram. Ugh. The last  one, which was five years ago, made me cry.  I swear the tech thought she was working in a North Georgia chicken processing plant specializing in producing tray packs of boneless, skinless breasts with rib meat.Mam

She used a spatula–a spatula! — to lift the breast onto the viewing stand. She then used the spatula to spread both my AAA-sized breast and whatever rib meat she could get over the lower plate.  Just when I thought we were ready to shoot some images, she smashed the top plate down and tried as hard as she could to make those two plates meet and meld.

She said, “You’ll feel a little pressure.”

A little pressure? Are you kidding? It was a little pressure if you compared it with being crushed underneath a tanker truck full of petroleum.  A little pressure is an inflated blood pressure cuff or a pinch from your mother for fidgeting during your sister’s school recital. The mammogram pressure was like slamming the car door on your hand. I know because I once slammed my hand in the car door. I lost the fingernail and mangled the soft tissue of my thumb because of the pressure.

And then the tech yells, “Don’t breathe! Don’t move!”

I was already ahead of her. I had stopped breathing as soon as the top plate touched my skin and I wasn’t moving as long as that machine held a part of my body. Losing a fingernail is one thing: losing a nipple or an entire boob is quite another.

Mammogram technology has advanced greatly in five short years. This time, the technician placed the breast on the bottom plate (I still like calling it the viewing stand) without the aid of a spatula. She calibrated the machine to slowly lower the upper plate and to use a rolling pressure so it simultaneously elongated and compressed the breast without squashing it like a chicken quesadilla. When this tech said I’d feel a gentle pressure build, I didn’t feel the need to laugh at her or kick her because she wasn’t lying. She was kind; she talked through the entire procedure so I’d know what was happening and what to expect next; and she was so efficient, I didn’t have to pay for parking.

Although much less painful, the mammogram still is uncomfortable. That’s why we’re lobbying to rename it the mammajammagram What do you think?

Don’t be stupid like me. Don’t put off screenings, self-exams, and even mammograms. In no way is the pain of a mammogram so bad that you should skip it. The pain of surgery, either radical or conservative, and the pain of chemo and radiation are far worse. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better your chances are for surviving and thriving. I haven’t gotten my results yet, but I believe no news is good news!