The week before my very first mammogram I was brave. The hour before… I was not.
Here are the excuses I gave my husband, Jim, as to why I couldn't, or shouldn't, go to the exam.
#1, I had a migraine. My husband didn't buy it. He's seen me with a migraine, it's obvious when I have one… and I was fine. #2, I said I felt like I might be coming down with a cold, and I really shouldn't infect others. His response was that one hour before, I'd been painting pumpkins with 15 kids at a work event for Safeway and I was perfectly healthy. #3 and my personal favorite, my 'rack' isn't that big, so I don't really need to worry. Jim's retort, "stop being a baby and get in the car." I got in the car.
We drove to the Safeway parking lot. The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance MammoVan was easy to spot. It's huge and cheery with a big pink dahlia on the side. After a promise from my husband that a chocolate treat from Safeway's bakery would be waiting for me afterwards, I agreed to get out of the car. Nervously, I rang the MammoVan's bell and was greeted right away. Inside it looks and feels just like a brick and mortar doctor's office. I gave my information and was led into a small changing room where I was told to wipe off any deodorant or lotion I was wearing and put on a gown. After a few minutes I was called in by the Mammography Technologist. Her name was Magaly Curry; she was a small woman, with kind eyes and an accent. She sensed right away that I was nervous and told me if I had been through childbirth, this would be no big deal! Unfortunately for both of us, I have not had kids, and I immediately started to sweat. Magaly swooped in to action, explaining in detail what would happen during the exam. She showed me the massive 3D x-ray machine, walked me through the procedure, explaining how she would have to 'man-handle' my breasts in order to get the best possible x-rays. I was then told to drop the right side of my gown as she twisted, shoved and yanked everything I have on my right side, on to what looked like a thick plastic party platter. Once piled high she announced, I wasn't 'large enough' for the big tray and was switching to the smaller one (not a shock). After a few more 'push' and 'pulls,' it was time. Magaly told me to take a deep breath and she began to lower, and lower, and lower the vice. I held as still as possible and she took the x-ray.
Here is where it gets tricky to explain. I'll start with my body's physical reaction. I couldn't control it, and I tried really, really hard. Sweat was rolling down the nape of my neck, my eyes were filled with tears and I couldn't stop shaking. My reaction was so visceral, that I am sure I alarmed my new pal Magaly.
Quite frankly, the pain isn't that bad. It's not comfortable by any means, but I've had charley horses that have hurt worse. It was mostly the embarrassment and fear of being naked and vulnerable in front of a stranger, plus the realization that you're being checked for CANCER. Luckily for me, Magaly is clearly trained to deal with crybabies and whiners such as myself. At that moment, she gave me the perfect dose of kindness mixed with drill sergeant. She told me I was doing great, I was almost done, (there are only 2 of them after all), and this exam saves lives. Immediately I wanted to impress her, so I mopped up my sweat, wiped my tears and boldly dropped the left side of my gown and said, 'squash away Magaly!'
Two weeks later when a letter came in the mail declaring my breast tissue 'healthy,' my husband and I high fived. I won't ever be scared to get this exam again. I have Magaly to thank for that.
As a result of my experience three of my friends are getting mammograms. And I'd like to give a virtual 'bra strap snap' to all of you who need to get one. Don't wait… if this big chicken can get one… so can you. Be sure to ask for Mammography Technologist Magaly Curry, at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance's MammoVan, she's pretty great.