I tend to be a rule follower. I am loosening up and busting out on occasion these days, but there is one place that my dogmatic tendencies serve me well - my health care. I dutifully went for my baseline mammogram as I approached the age of forty and have headed to that not so fun appointment each year since.
A few weeks back, this appointment was like none other that I had ever experienced. I know the drill. Go to the desk and check in. Listen for my name to be called back to interact with the administrative/insurance assistant. Go back to the big waiting room and sit down. Listen for the mammogram hostess to call me back and show me the gowns to put on - "make sure you tie it in the front..." Awkwardly schlep my bag with all my upper body clothes and reading material (brought in for distraction as I wait) inside as I try to hold the gown closed and avoid flashing my saggy breasts to the ladies in the small mammogram waiting room. And then plop down and wait for my turn to go into "the room" with the boob squashing machine.
This time, as I sat in the small waiting room, the lady beside me pointed to the coffee machine and said, "I sure wish there was wine in that thing." The five to six women all nervously waiting chuckled, responded, and made quick human connections. My "new friend" said, "I told my son that having a mammogram is like taking his testicles and smashing them between two metal clamps." As mom of three sons and wife of one man, I am pretty sure that is not a completely fair comparison. I have seen the "collapse on the floor" response when that male body part is involved. I kept that response to myself. She was obviously very anxious. Truthfully, my mammogram experiences are uncomfortable, but not painful. Then my waiting room neighbor was called back into "the room."
She came out and flopped down back into her chair. "I have to do round two. I felt a lump...my mom had breast cancer in this exact same place." My heart went out to her, and then almost immediately, it was my turn. I thought about her as I did my yearly duty.
Most mammogram technicians are lovely women with a great sense of humor.This wasn't my favorite mammogram tech as she kept saying, "relax your shoulders." Hard to do when the vise is clamping down. I got a little annoyed that two of the angles had to be "re-done," upping the squash count from four to six.
Then I walked out and saw my neighbor who had gotten difficult news sitting there. All I knew to do was touch her shoulder lightly, look into her eyes, and say "I hope you will be ok." And then I headed out the door into my own life. Ever since, as she comes to mind, I lift her up in prayer.
Later that day, I wrote this light hearted post on my Facebook page - "Today I told my teenage daughters about mammograms as I prepared to head out for the yearly visit. So many exciting things ahead for them as they enter into womanhood...." One of my young forty something brave mom friends said, " I continue to put that dreaded visit off. I know, not good, but it sounds absolutely awful! I think I will need a Valium to make it through!" And what ensued was the beauty of women living and responding to one another in community. There were multiple offers to go with her, lunch invitations post-first mammogram, etc., etc. A mutual friend told her story of finding out about having breast cancer during this routine screening. The idea for an informal "mammogram buddies" was born.
It is so beautiful when we as women walk alongside each other, truly SEE one another, and hold each other's hands during the scary and painful times in life. There are some "less than fun" parts of being female, but I find great comfort and joy in true friends who are willing to hold my hand when I am faced with something that seems overwhelming. And for strangers who offer a smile or a kind word in the midst of an unexpected and unwelcome moment. These truly are some of the holiest moments in life.
PS A few days after I had my mammogram, a pink envelope showed up at my house with these words on the outside "Please Open Immediately." I felt scared and my heartbeat picked up the pace. I was given 10 seconds of genuine empathy for those who receive bad news in this way. It was just a glimpse as I tore open the letter and received a one year pass. Until next year...
PSS Sorry I don't have an original photo of a mammogram machine, BUT, not usually what I am thinking about when I am in "the room." Thanks google images.
Book coming fall of 2017: Adopting Grace: A Parenting Journey Out of Legalism