Friday, September 21, 2012

saga of a mammogram

Yesterday I had my annual mammogram. It was actually my first since the diagnosis, as my first post-treatment screening was March's MRI.

Berowne was with me Wednesday night and Thursday morning, which helped with the panic enormously. I had asked him to be there, which is fairly huge for me - I have a very hard time asking for help, and if through no fault of his own he hadn't been able to be there the disappointment would have been disproportionate and I would have beat myself up for asking in the first place. Because I should accept that I am the Spartan boy and cancer (or divorce, or body hatred, or whatever) is the fox and I will just let it eat me alive, because THAT IS WHAT STRONG PEOPLE DO. Right?

Not right. Hence blogging about my various foxes. And asking my boyfriend to come over. As I said, that was absolutely the right thing to do and it meant I headed off to the hospital feeling pretty good emotionally.

I was fortunate to have a wonderful tech, who was upbeat and informative and knew what she was doing, so that the intense pain was never something I had to bear for more than a few seconds. For my very first mammogram I had a tech who apparently had never dealt with larger, denser breasts before, and I had to be re-positioned and re-photographed over and over. It took forever and I was black and blue for days, and it's amazing I was willing to have another the next year. But this woman was great, and even the side-squishing-ones (I am sure that is a technical term), which involve stretching one breast so violently away from the other that it honestly feels as if the skin and muscles on your sternum are going to split, were over quickly.

Then I went back into the waiting room, because once you've had cancer a doctor reads your mammogram scans right there, and you don't have to wait a couple days for your results. I was quite Zen during this wait.

Then they called me back in for more pictures. "It's okay!" I thought to myself. "It often takes two pictures to get my whole boob!" But I noticed that the tech wasn't looking quite as upbeat as before.

She put me in a side-squishing position, but even worse than before. My chest muscles and skin were at snapping point. My breast was mashed to unbelievable dimensions. My head and arm were at weird angles.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"Sort of," I said, meaning that I thought I could bear it for the length of a picture (about six seconds) without actually screaming. I have a fairly high pain tolerance, not in the sense that I don't feel pain easily but in that I am willing to bear a lot of pain if there's a reason and if I know it will end soon.

"Because I need you to hold that for two minutes," she said.

"You what now?" I asked.

"There are calcifications in your breast. If they respond to two minutes of intense pressure, we'll know they're just milk of calcium and harmless. If they don't, well."

I held that position for two minutes. "That wasn't fun," I said in a squeaky voice, when released. Spartan Boy Gets a Mammogram.

"Hmm," said the tech, looking at my pictures on the computer screen. I looked too, and saw lots of (okay, maybe ten) little white spots, throughout the breast. The same little white spots they showed me last year, when pointing out the cancer.

I was sent back to the waiting room. There was a woman ahead of me also waiting for the doctor to review her pictures, and then the doctor got pulled into a procedure. I waited for twenty-five minutes, seeing that picture in my mind's eye. Sure that my other breast (et tu, Lefty?) had cancer.

Mentally, I went through the whole process of getting them removed. Of the physical trauma of multiple surgeries and the emotional trauma of having to re-build my body, knowing my shape will never be quite the same no matter how good the plastic surgeon. Knowing that the replacement breasts will have no sensation, so my sex life will be altered on a basic nerve-ending level as much as it will be emotionally. Knowing that if I do manage to have children, I won't be able to nurse them.

And the physical recovery is not something I could do on my own. Someone would have to come stay with me: even if I ignore my own needs enough to shrug off the idea of not being able to open my kitchen cabinets or wash my hair, I can't ignore that I wouldn't be able to take the dogs out and so three or four times a day I'd need someone else there. Would I accept Berowne's pre-emptive offer of being that person? His job is an hour and a half away from my house. Would I ask one of my brothers to fly to Massachusetts and stay with me? Have my friends rotate days? Why did I park at a meter instead of the garage? I'm going to leave here with a cancer diagnosis and find my car's been towed. How do I ask for help without it being a tacit admission that I have failed at everything ever?

Most days I like living alone. Sitting in a mammography waiting room, facing surgery which would leave me with honest-to-God drains under each arm and no ability to even take my own dogs outside when they need to pee, I did not like it one bit.

The tech finally pushed the curtain aside and said, "Beatrice? Do you want to talk to the doctor?"

I gave her a puzzled look. Do I want to? Don't I have to? Surely they aren't going to let a tech tell me the cancer is back?

"You're good," she said. "Good good. But the doctor wants you to come back in six months, not a year."


She said a few more times, "You're good good," because she could tell from my expression it wasn't sinking in, and let me get dressed, and then I met with the doctor. He told me that the white spots were all proven to be milk of calcium deposits, as they reacted properly to the Torquemada Squish. However, around the surgery site on the other breast, there are spots which could be either fat necrosis - a typical aftereffect of surgery - or potential microcalcifications of the type which were previously found to be cancerous. So he recommends keeping an eye on those and re-checking in six months.

I meet with one of my oncologists next week, to discuss further. If she's cool with waiting six months, I will feel fine about that. (I will be a WRECK in March 2013, but that's then.) I walked out so exhausted from the excess of emotion that I felt numb, and found that my car was still there, and ran a bunch of errands in a dazed state, and that night was in my pajamas by five and sound asleep by eight-thirty.

My boobs live to fight another day! Once they have recovered, that is. Ow.

I am really, really lucky to have the people around me that I do. Doctors and friends and family and all. I know I'll get through whatever happens in six months, and I'll keep working on my ability to ask for help. And on my ability to maneuver my ridiculous muscle car into small spaces, so that I can park in the damn garage next time.


  1. HOLY SHIT. That sounds so nervewracking - glad you are okay! And really glad B was there before to support you, too.

  2. Cried at this. I still don't know how you did it, and continue to do it.