Last week, I had my breasts flattened and x-rayed in a mammography machine for the first time.
A rite of passage for most American women – at least those of us fortunate enough to have decent health insurance – is a mammography when they reach a certain age. For years, the threshold was age 40; now, some doctors have bumped that up to 50.
It might not seem like the best birthday present you could give yourself, but it probably is the best present you can give your family.
I should know.
My mom was diagnosed a couple weeks ago with breast cancer.
It was found during her annual mammography.
Monday morning, she will undergo surgery, a lumpectomy to remove the traitorous tissue.
They caught it early, the doctors said.
The cancer isn’t even a mass yet, they said. It can’t be felt, and could barely be seen. The tech doing the biopsy practically needed x-ray vision glasses to guide the needle to the right place.
It’s localized, hasn’t spread, they said. We’ll take it out, do some radiation. You’ll be fine, they told her.
“If you’re going to have cancer, this is probably the best kind to have,” my mom said when she called to tell me the news.
I am grateful for that, especially in light of another person in my life whose news was not as good.
A high school friend of mine had some pain in her side when playing tennis. A whirlwind of tests, doctors, and hospital visits later, she is now recovering from a mastectomy and trying to hang on to her sanity through four months of chemotherapy.
She’s 40 years old.
As am I.
And so I found myself walking into last Monday, pressing the elevator button that would take me up to the second floor Women’s Diagnostic Center.
After a kerfluffle with paperwork – I had forgotten the lab order slip, so had to go to my doctor’s office to get another – a lady with a nice smile and fall leaf-patterned scrubs ushered me into a small changing room.
I shed my shirt and bra, donned the hospital gown – “open in the front” – and waited to be called.
A few minutes later, I was standing in front of the mammography machine, and the technician was doing her thing.
From the moment I walked into the room to the moment I walked back to the changing room, it took about seven minutes.
And though some of my friends have said the pressure of the mammography plate on the breast is uncomfortable or even a little painful, my experience wasn’t.
But then again, I wasn’t thinking about myself as it was happening.
I kept picturing my 5-year-old daughter in her Darth Vader Halloween costume (don’t ask), and my 10-year-old son in his soccer uniform and how desperately I want to watch them graduate from high school, then college, get married to someone wonderful, have beautiful babies and let me play with them a lot.
I want to be around for my kids, the way my mom has been there for me.
If that means I have to have my breasts pressed between plates for a few seconds every year to make sure everything inside is as it should be, so be it.
Bring it on.
If you or a woman you love has been putting off a mammogram, don’t put it off any longer. Make the appointment and get it done.
Your family will thank you for it.
If your health insurance doesn't cover mammograms, or you're uninsured, call 1-800-215-7494 to find out about free or low-cost screenings.