Army of Mom

So this is how liberty dies ... with thunderous applause.


My first mammogram

It has been a little more than a week now since I had my first mammogram, but the memory is still fresh in my mind.

CNN was on the TV in the waiting room as I filled out paperwork and signed form after form after form. I felt like I was donating an organ or getting ready for major surgery, not having a simple mammogram. I had heard all the horror stories - it feels like they're making your boob into a pancake, it is humiliating, etc. One of my vertically challenged friends said she had to stand on her tiptoes to get her boob in the machine. I read a humor column about smoke coming out of the machine and the firefighters coming in to use the jaws of life to rescue the boob ... all these things were on my mind.

But, nothing adequately prepares you for it. Tears welled in my eyes as the tech, Linda, explained the nature or mammograms to me. I got Boob Xray 101. How they do it. Why they smush it like they do, etc. She could tell I was mortified. As I sat in the poorly made gown contemplating the day's wages of a nickel that some poor Vietnamese child lost for the day because the right side of the top didn't complete go over my shoulder and cover my ample  bosom, my right nipple peaks out from the gaping gown. I turned my thoughts back to the explanation of shadows, milk ducts, fatty tissue, fibrous tissue and more ... I asked her if the machine could be lowered because I'm short. She looked at me  a little funny. Then, she showed me how the machine goes down to accommodate wheelchair bound patients. A little relief there. I told her why I asked and she said all the horror stories were usually exaggerations because no good story starts with being in and out of the lab in 15 minutes with no trauma.  Still, the tears drip out of my eyes and run down my cheeks.

Next thing I know, I'm face to face with the machine. The tech places her hands on my right breast to position it on the plate and a dozen thoughts race through my mind. I smiled to myself that this is not what my husband had in mind those times he fantasized about another woman fondling my breast. The next quick thought was the male labor and delivery nurse who helped me figure out how to position Robert to nurse better when I had him back in 99. I thought of all the wonderous things breasts are good for and how particularly fond I am of mine. I wondered if Linda was a bit like the Marquis de Sade and enjoyed her job. Right breast completely freed from the gown and ready to be mammogramizeed; I looked at Linda. Relax, she tells me. Relax. The tears begin to flow freely; no longer am I able to retain my composure.

I know you've probably heard it all, I begin. But, this makes me feel so old.

Now, I'm openly sobbing. Equal parts of shame for being so vain and fear at the prospect of getting old are fueling the tears. There it is. I admitted it. I'm 35. I have three children. I wasn't afraid at the prospect of getting breast cancer like my mother experienced (including a radical mastectomy.) I was more afraid of being the aging soccer mom driving a mini-van and spending my time at PTA meetings commiserating about joint custody, flabby arms and the cost of children's shoes. Gone are the days when sturdy young men stopped to gaze at my great rack or ghetto ass. Now, I wonder if they're reminded to call their moms when they look at me.

Linda, the tech, puts her arm around me and pats me on the back. Mind you, my boob is still flapping in the wind here. I wonder, in the back of my mind, if she wants to laugh. She tells me that she has never heard anyone tell her that is why they're scared or crying. Then, she proceeds to follow the same philosophy my mother always gave me of how much better I have it than the next person. She tells me how she performed mammograms on a 17-year-old girl and a 23-year-old male bodybuilder who had an infection in his chest. Somehow, that doesn't make me feel better. It only brings out my guilt for feeling sorry for myself. Mom used to do that to me, too. I do it to my own kids, dammit. Of course, the guilt from when I was 7 and was at M.D. Anderson cancer center in Houston comes rushing back. The volunteers brought around a gift cart for the patients. There were stuffed animals and paint by number kits. I wanted a stuffed horse, so I took it and was happy. Then, my mother told me that there were children in the hospital who weren't able to paint and by taking the stuffed animal, I was depriving other children - much worse off than me - of joy. I'm sure she didn't say it that way, but as an adult, that is what I remember. I still feel bad for that. That simple little green stuffed horse with yarn for a mane and a tail still torments me. But, that is neither here nor there. I am riddled with guilt for feeling so vain.

When the boob smushing party was over, I got in the car and started to cry and cry and cry. I was down much of the day, but then I got over it. That is what you have to do when you're the mom. You have no choice, right? If you don't suck it up and deal with it, who will?


  • At 11:35 PM, July 25, 2004, Blogger Uzz said…

    Now that is an opening Blog post right there!!! I knew you had to be pretty upset, but you always keep a brave face! As far as getting me...I understand...I keep forgetting that I am going to be 38 in a few weeks and if there ever was a time when the ladies checked out my formerly skinny body, then Age and Humility have wiped that from my memory:-) Oh well...maybe one day I will dazzle them with talk of the best arch supports for your shoes!

    Keep on blogging!


  • At 10:42 AM, July 26, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great piece, Tonie. Made me remember my first - I was 40 and still nursing my one and only child (hey, she was born when I was 39). Anyway, she was such a rough nurser that it wasn't until after she was weaned that I knew what having a mammogram was really like. I had two tough boobs there for a while....

    I like your blog. Keep at it!


  • At 9:49 AM, October 26, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I just stumbled onto this while looking for info on mammography. Thanks for sharing your story. You are a gifted writer.

  • At 8:45 PM, March 15, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Here it is, several years later and I also run across your blog. On top of the emotions you describe, I would add to it the humility and indignity of being handled in such a manner. I put off my first mammogram for a year because of the "old" factor, but now I'm comfortable with that part. It's the indignity of this procedure that is still eating me 48hours afterward. I'm still prone to fits of sobs. The tech was as professional as she could be, but the whole experience... I've *never* been exposed or manipulated in this fashion, and I don't foresee me going back for another one. Ever. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't, or at least I'd have the crude friend with me so I could make all the off-color crude comments pertaining to the procedure and release the tension through fits of hysterical laughter.


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