Today I had a mammogram. A lot different from my first mammogram at 13 in Canada, where I had lumpy boobs and the Doctor just wanted to make sure it was natural breast development and nothing else. I had to go to a hospital then–down white hallways and across pale chilled floors. I distinctly remember the glaring white of a large hospital room; florescent lights and five or six people–one or two men– in light colored uniforms, masks and hats. The machine was massive and I had to stand on a stool and wear a hospital gown and nothing else as technicians scrunched, pulled and flattened my barely-there boobs onto a platform and then dovw behind a protective wall/booth as if live grenades were being thrown. I was cold and scared and had to hold my breath between each squish.
Now I live in Florida. This place I went to today was another world. All of people working in this particular area were women. They led me into a waiting area painted a beautiful spring green and illuminated warmly by soft LED lights buried in the ceiling. There were wicker chairs padded thickly. A counter top had fresh made coffee, creamer, sweetener and sugar, as well as pink lemonade. They had piped through some sort of easy listening radio station that I could barely make out the music too but added to the whole calming atmosphere. When you walked down the hall to the rest room, pink ribbons with names written on them, like, Susan Walker, 10 years, from survivors glinted on the walls. They had little changing rooms which were painted a darker green, decorated with framed mirrors brushed to look aged and bronze and with lockable compartments for purses, bras and shirts. They had freshly laundered little ponchos to wear, snapped up the front made of soft flannel. Little flowers dotted them in various shades of rose.
The experience of the exam itself was not as uncomfortable. First, the machine was totally different than when I was a child. It was no bigger than six foot tall and maybe three or four feet wide–instead of taking up half the room. The exam room was lit the same way, painted the same fresh color with a wicker chair and decorations. The lady who helped put my chi-chi’s on the machine sat perched on a stool in the corner with a computer that takes less than 30-40 seconds to show images of my breasts to her and let her know whether she needs another one or if she sealed the deal.
As I walked out, another older lady there said that they found a spot but it was probably just calcium. She said she wasn’t worried because she had a mammogram last year and everything was clear but I could tell it was a lie: her hands were making little bird broken-wing gestures when she spoke and she didn’t look me in the eye. I told her, helplessly, that I’m sure everything will be alright and I’m sure it’s exactly that.
I went back and changed, grabbed my purse and met up with Shawn. I’m surprised and rather stunned at how good the people in the medical center are. I’m from Canada and the horror stories from Canada about the American medical care practices and people are enough to warrant hair raising as well as eyebrow raising.
I remember in Canada as a child and teen four – six hour waits at the doctors office despite showing up early for appointments, tired and bored doctors, dismissive and rude nurses–and I didn’t get that vibe from ANYONE today or the last time we visited for a check up there. Shawn and I were both talking in hushed, amazed voices about how cheerful everyone’s been and–is that normal? Or did we just luck out?
I keep thinking however, of the ribbons on the wall. Of the names written on pink hanging from pink strings, with hope written in numbers like ten years, and two years, and five years, and 23 years–and its like walking past a war memorial. I felt a rush of quiet and respect for the countless other women who have gone before me. And maybe it was just my odd side, but I felt a sort of comradeship in the waiting room even when there was times I was by myself. I began looking at the walls painted in an enthusiastic spring green–the color of new things, of new beginnings and perhaps the color of hope–and I imagined the walls had held their breath nervously with thousands others. The chairs had felt the trembling of frightened women holding onto their brave-faces at all costs. If these walls could talk, I thought, I wonder how many stories they would tell of pink ribbons and those who walked before me?
I bet they would say things like : Take care of yourself. Do a self breast exam once a month, or if you have dense breasts and are not sure of doing it yourself, ask your doctor to do it for you at least every six months. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, try and get a mammogram at least once. Early prevention is key to survival. You owe it to family and to yourself.
If walls could talk, anyway, I bet that’s what they’d say.