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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Floppy But Healthy: Breasts & Mammograms

Yep, talking about boobs and annual mammograms. Today was this year's screening.

I've had two scares: one about 25 years ago when we first moved from the city to a burb just north. I received the dreaded letter (There was no hospital/patient website then) that said I needed to return for another set of x-rays. I don't have to tell anyone who has had that experience how scary it can be. I was consumed by all the "What ifs." What if I had breast cancer? What stage? What treatment would be recommended? Would I lose my hair? Would I lose my life?

Thankfully, the second set of x-rays was clean, and I was free to go.

Maybe it was 20 years later that I had my second repeat performance, Like the first, I was given a clean bill of health.

Today, I sat in the waiting room after taking off everything down to my waist and donning one of those lovely hospital gowns opened in the front. It's always a crapshoot when I don't use deodorant as instructed because, on a humid day like today, who can tell how many people I might offend.

There were three other women in that room with me. One woman, her long dishwater blonde hair pulled back from her face, fidgeted while she stared at her cell phone. She looked worried, and I imagined that she was there to get news about her most recent mammogram. She was not wearing a gown.

Only later did an overweight, older woman walk into the room. It was her mother. "We are ordering a biopsy," the technician said. The daughter stood up, said something to her mother in Polish, and then accompanied her to the changing room. I assume that by then the mother understood what she was facing.

The other women in the waiting room looked relatively relaxed. One was reading a book and didn't glance up once. The other was scanning what I assumed were her cell phone messages or maybe flipping through a news site or playing Scrabble.

One by one, these two women were "greeted" by a technician and led into their respective rooms. There I was . . . alone. I wished that at age 74 I didn't have to bother with mammograms, just as I no longer had to have an annual pelvic exam. And while there is some dispute, the majority of the medical professionals who deal with breasts, vaginas, bone density, and the rest of that good stuff still support having an annual exam. Damn!

I had turned off my cell phone and didn't bring a book. I was there with my thoughts. I hadn't felt any lumps in either breast (Though I'm not conscientious about monthly breast exams), and the cursory exam by my ob/gyn a few months back hadn't raised any red flags.

I recognized the technician who called my name. It was if I had a friend who would take good care of me. She led me into the freezing cold room, sat me down, and asked the perfunctory question: Had I felt any lumps or leaking or discoloration on either of my breasts? Her question took me back to that year when I nursed my infant son--a warm and fulfilling year, except for the open sores in those first months when I let my little guy suck too hard. Hell, what did I know? Not much.

"You can walk over to the x-ray machine. And please open the front of your gown."

Before I "disrobed," I needed to explain. "My breasts are even floppier this year than they were last year."

"Well," she said, "they may be floppy but they are healthy."

It was if she'd said the magic words.

"You're right. I'm going to have to put that in my blog."

I felt emboldened, blessed by this woman's sage comment. So what if my breasts were more akin to those of African women who don't wear bras than to a young stallion of a woman who has had a boob job.

But then she molded each breast like a piece of dough, lowered the paddle just to the point of severe discomfort, told me to hold my breath.

I inhaled as if I were about to dive underwater and waited until she gave the "All clear."

This was probably the thirty-fifth time I'd had a mammogram. Like the previous thirty-four, I couldn't wait to put on some deodorant and skin lotion.


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