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When you're in the exam room getting your annual pap, having
a natural conversation isn't easy. One of the most awkward — but necessary — things a woman must do in her life is to willingly, by appointment,
leave the comfort of her home to don a paper gown and get poked, groped and
scraped in her most intimate areas by a near-stranger, all while making
lighthearted banter as if they just sat down together to have a casual cup of
But no matter how ridiculous it feels to chat about the
weather while a doctor kneads your breast like self-rising bread dough, it's
far superior to hearing the words, "Hmm. What's this?"
That was how I discovered I had a lump in my breast. I'm
still a few years from the recommended age for a mammogram, but due to my
family history with cancer (lots of it) and my usual history with breasts
(non-lumpy), she went ahead and scheduled one. The soonest available
appointment was three weeks away. "No big deal," I thought. "I
can wait. I'm sure it's nothing serious."
Indeed, I handled it really, really well — right up until I
got to the parking lot. Then the sunshine hit my face, and I immediately
thought about the possibility of the sunshine not hitting my face, and
my face immediately crumpled into an ugly cry.
When almost everyone you're related to has/had cancer, you
get accustomed to living with the assumption that you're probably going to end
up with cancer someday, too. What you don't get accustomed to is coming
face-to-face with the possibility that the cancer could already be IN YOU,
right that very second, and you won't know for sure for another three weeks,
and in the meantime there's nothing you can do but wait.
Three weeks is a long time to wonder if your boobs are
trying to kill you.
I was amazed at how many women are avoiding recommended screenings because they're afraid of the pain or the answers.
Not to mention, mammograms themselves don't exactly have a
very good reputation. They've been likened to slamming your breasts in a car
door, leaning into a meat grinder, and smashing your chest between two
mechanical salad bar sneeze guards. The pain, some people tell you, could bring
tears to the eyes of a 250-pound linebacker under anesthesia. In equal measure
I both desperately wanted answers and dreaded how I was going to get them.
Finally, the Big Day came. I sat across from the Boob
Flattener, reciting my date of birth to the technician and nervously sweating
though my paper vest. (Did you know that paper gowns come in vest form? Sexy.)
She reassured me that it wasn't going to hurt, and I laughed like a maniac
because everyone knows that medical personnel get paid extra to lie about how
much things are going to hurt. But you know what?
IT DIDN'T HURT.
I was amazed, really.
Thankfully, my lump turned out to be benign. Later, when I
talked about it online, I was also amazed at how many women are avoiding
recommended screenings and tests because they're afraid of the pain, or afraid
of the answers they might get.
I know I'm very lucky to have a clean bill of health. I also
know I'm not off the hook; someday, the results might not be so favorable, and
that terrifies me. But avoidance is no way to deal with fear. Empower yourself
with knowledge. If it's time for you to get your mammogram, I promise it isn't
as bad as you've heard — and as scary as the answers might be, not knowing
the answers is far scarier.