Losing My Mammogram Virginity

From behind her pink-goggled eyes, the little girl smiled up at me. With a swim float encircling her waist and an Esther Williams-era bathing cap adorning her head, she had one message for me: “Do it for those who love you.”

As I stood nervously in the x-ray room, that statement gave me a measure of comfort, albeit in an a-ha sort of way.
So, this is why we mount campaigns around themes of “girl power” and “I am woman. Hear me roar.”
This is why we wear t-shirts emblazoned with slogans telling us to “fight like a girl.”
This is why every October, we pink out.
These cute and clever calls to action exist because monthly self-exams, mammograms and what they both aim to discover – well, these things suck.
A few days ago, I walked my most delicate parts up to a tall, torturous-looking machine, smirked sophomorically at the manufacturer name displayed across the top – Hologic – and prepared to lose my mammogram virginity.
Nothing ominous had sent me here. Just another year around the sun and a marked change in the conversational priorities of my yearly GYN exam.
“Schedule a mammogram before you are 40,” my doctor said casually at my last appointment. “Don’t put it off.”
Just a year prior she’d been asking if I had further reproductive plans (negatory). Now? Onto “older life” issues like the merits of elective hysterectomies and baseline mammograms.
So, here I stood, in an open-faced gown sans deodorant, lotion or perfume as per instruction, staring at the swimming cutie on the poster and starting to sweat.
The tech was superb. Informative and kind. She kept the process as dignified as possible.
“How old are your children?” she asked, eyeing the section of my paperwork that had asked about chest tenderness.
“Four and six,” I said, adding this part of my body hasn’t quite been the same since baby girl’s Birth Day in 2009. “Yeah. Is tenderness like that um…normal?”
“Honey, pregnancy does all kinds of wild things to women’s bodies! It’s completely normal.”
Exhale (sort of).
It was mid-afternoon and, no doubt, she’d already done this several times before me, issuing commands like “Move your foot to the left. Place your chin here. Put your right hand on that bar. Don’t squeeze so tight.  Relax your shoulders. Hold still.” And, my personal favorite (required while taking the x-ray), “Don’t breathe.”
I felt a wave of relief as she completed the first one. My best friend and my mother, both of whom I’d consulted prior to the appointment, were right. No big deal.
After the second, I felt more confident. And, those pesky shoulders were relaxing too.
Then she tilted the Ho (logic). Ow to the left. Double ow to the right.
I’d stepped away from the machine, ready to slip my earrings back on and be far, far away from this necessary drudgery when she informed me we weren’t done yet.
“I thought you said there were just four?”
“I said four to six. Let’s do one more, and if this one turns out good, then you’re done, okay?”
Okay. Dammit.
Thankfully, the Ho went back to her upright position, leaving me to approach with slightly less trepidation.
With my chin upward, cheek pressed to the glass, arms gripping the bars (tight, but not too tight), and my feet placed most awkwardly below, I thought of my precious little E.
“Doing it for you, sweet girl.”
After all, in the name of preventive care, temporarily squashed mammary glands are a small price to pay.
This is a beautiful, fragile life, and I intend to squeeze many more moons of joy out of the time that remains. (Plus, there’s Motrin and Malbec at home.)
So, c’mon Hologic – let’s do this.
Rebecca C. Walden is a freelance writer based in Texas by way of Birmingham. She is a marketing and public relations pro working in higher education.
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