“Wait. Seriously?” I said to no one in particular because I totally could not contain myself. “That’s what a mammogram is?”
There were four women in the room and all of them looked up at me at once from their various articles about Jennifer Anniston’s relationship at various levels of happiness. Then they quickly looked at each other – because, was the question rhetorical? Because if not, how could they know? Maybe it was a mammogram and maybe, judging from the level of my indignation, that was an alien rectal-probe. They couldn’t know for sure. They hadn’t left the room with me. So I eased up.
“That was my first mammogram,” I said, “- and wow. I cannot believe that’s really what they’ve come with – even though, between Avon, Revlon, Susan G. Komen and Forest Gump, a lot of people have collectively circumnavigated the planet a lot of times in the name of boobies.” That’s a rough quote. I don’t think I said “boobies.”
And then it was like a floodgate burst forth. And those four silent women, each of whom bore a surprising resemblance to my mother in one way or another, suddenly started nodding, smiling vigorously and talking in unison.
“Are you kidding? If mammogram’s were a man’s test they’d be heavily sedated and lying down.”
“My 90-year-old mother had to have one a few weeks ago and she cried.”
“Oh, I’ve cried.”
“Me too. These new ones aren’t as bad.”
“Wait,” I stopped them, “you mean there’s a worse version? What do they do, flay off the skin first with a butter knife?”
Everyone nodded and in unison said some version of, “Oy vey you’re not kidding.”
Then we all just shook our heads.
I had come in for a routine mammogram – having been told since I was 25 I’d need to start getting them by 35 since my mother had had pre-menopausal breast cancer in the 1990’s – and I was now pushing 39. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what a mammogram was – I just didn’t know, you know? Like you can’t totally know what a bullet feels like before you’ve been shot, or the crushing pain of an avalanche…that lands on your breasts.
Now I don’t want to give short-shrift to this life-saving test or undermine it’s importance. I know there are a lot of things we do in spite of discomfort for the sake of health and wellness – We go to the dentist, we eat Quinoa, we pretend to care about jazz music, art museums and public television – so I will say with absolute clarity, that even after having seen the dark side of this statement – if you are at an age where they recommend you get a mammogram – GO GET A MAMMOGRAM!
But just so you are prepared, I will tell you what it will be like:
1. You walk in. Right out of the gate, before you are plied with bottle of Pinot, you will be asked to take off everything from the waist up. Bare-breasted in broad daylight with a stranger you will awkwardly cover your boobs with your arms. Then you will say something to break up the total weirdness like, “This is nothing to you ,right? You must see so many breasts…” to which your technician will reply, “Ohmygod, totally. They’re like glumps of tissue – just big glumps.”
And you will be distracted by the non-word “glump” when used as a descriptor for a part of your body.
2. Your technician will affix small nipple size stickers onto your nipples. You will not find tassels on them although you will look.
3. You will be walked over to a twelve foot tall machine with large plastic trays that look very like printer trays, but that you will soon learn possess the power of evil.
4. You will be positioned by the technician, and by “positioned” I mean, your arm will be flung backward, you will be told to move your stomach, although you won’t be sure where to move it since she has your breast in her hand and is hamburgering it between the two plastic claws of insanity. She will simultaneously knee your thighs toward the machine while telling you to move your head, “up.” Then she will tell you to hold your breath, as if there was another option.
5. You will incur 6 more of these “positions.”
6. You will start saying the word “fuck” a lot, like, “If men had to have this fucking test you can bet they’d have the fucking plastic plates lined with fucking ferret fur and squeezing would be replaced with cradling and there would be fucking candy!” and then you will apologize for swearing because it isn’t her fault Seimen’s hasn’t worked out a better plan – and she’ll go- because she’s heard it all before, including 90-year-old women crying, “Whatever gets you through.”
Tonight, I am glad I had a mammogram. Everything checked out and now I have a baseline understanding of what is happening in my at-risk breast tissue – Plus the mind forgets pain.
But let’s just say I looked up screening for testicular cancer and nowhere did I read “unmedicated, willful squashing of the testes in a vice while contorting in award-winning acrobatic positions and possibly crying.”
Because, no fucking way.