I sit on the faded pink chairs, I know from every year before this, where the greasy stains are. The same old tattered magazines and breast cancer pamphlets are on the table. I sit in the chair facing forward as if I was on a train, leaving nowhere fast. I measure my time annually by these mammogram appointments. I can’t believe it’s been a year already.
I am given the thin, green hospital robe and the same monotone speech, no body wash, no cream soaps, no deodorant and I make the same stupid joke every year in my head (“that’s going to be worse for you than me.”) I had a lump removed from my breast when I was 25, luckily it was benign but I remember the shock, and the experience in detail. I remember that the surgeon made me cry and the nurses comforted me. I’ve had a mammogram every year since. I am now 56 years old.
I know the instructions by heart but as soon as they tell me what to do, I forget. As soon as the nurse closes the curtain that makes that whoosh-metallic sound, I have no idea which way to put the gown on, my hands shake and I am nervous. I tell myself that I am sure everyone else here is anxious but that gives me no comfort. I wish I could be the type of person that could hide my feelings but I would need a full lobotomy for that. My feelings are seen from a mile away, they glow in neon orange lights like a flashing danger sign.
Finally it is my turn. A technician leads me into the mammogram room, I don’t complain about the discomfort ever and then I go back to the waiting room. I wait a long time, in fact I notice that all the women who I had been with have already left. There are a new batch of women here, waiting to be called in, having their tests and waiting with me. One by one they are leaving too. Now, I am really worried, this does not feel right.There are no nurses to ask, they only come in sporadically but as soon as I see one I ask her politely to please find out what is going on. She is kind (and you remember every kind word) and tells me they need two more pictures. They take two more pictures. Once again I am in the waiting room now waiting for my ultra sound. In every year before they have called me into the radiologist for the results of my mammogram BEFORE the ultra sound but not today. When, after thirty minutes, the nurse tells me to come for my ultra sound, I ask her the results of my mammogram and she says “we NEVER tell that to the patient, the radiologist tells you after both tests.” I have come here for the last fifteen years and it’s never been done like that but I am too weak to argue.
Once in the ultra sound room, the technician does a thorough job and I noticed her focusing, over and over my right breast. I asked if there was anything wrong and she laughed and said “I can’t tell you but the radiologist will give you the information.” “Don’t get dressed” she says as she leaves and I know that is a standard procedure. As if I was in a bad dream the technician comes back and says the radiologist wants a few more pictures. I have been here for three hours and I am trying very hard not to weep with exhaustion and fear.
Finally, they call my name for the radiologist. My whole body is shaking and my legs feel like jello. I hold on to the walls for support. The radiologist says glibly “You’re fine.” “Yeah, you’re fine, no changes from last year, good to go for another year.”He give me a slip of paper and with a wave of his hand he encourages me to leave. I had lost my voice. I finally managed to ask about the nodule and he said they had compared it and nothing changed.
Thinking back I was in shock; it reminded me of the time when I did have a lump in my breast and it had to be removed.I remembered having to wait so long for the biopsy, more than a week. I knew I had heard good news today but it hadn’t sunk in yet. I walked back to the changing room with fingers trembling and slowly changed back into my clothes. I was grateful, believe me I was grateful; my emotions just hadn’t caught up just yet.
*Please note that more women die of heart failure than all cancers combined. My breast surgeon told me that one day, smirking and grinning widely, telling me it was “good for his business.” Visit Carolyn Thomas’ page Heartsisters.org for more information.