Women, you all know what this is like. Men, if you read this, try to empathize with your wives or girlfriends.
When my daughter was going for her first mammogram, I had to tell her it wouldn’t feel pleasant. Your breast is treated as a hunk of meat. Mine are relatively small, so I hesitate to think of what it must be like for women with large breasts.
You probably have to wait, first in the waiting room. Then you are called and shown a changing room with a locker, or maybe the lockers are full, so you’re offered a large plastic bag for your belongings. Undress down to the waist. If you’re lucky, the radiology center will have cloth gowns, not those paper ones. Then you wait some more, in the inside waiting room.
Then your technician calls your name and leads you to the exam room. She will most likely be from an East European country. I’ve had technicians from Russia, from Azerbaijan, from Ukraine.
The room will be cold. Very cold. That’s for the health of the scanning machine. Cloth gowns will be marginally warmer than paper. You lower the gown to your waist so the technician can attach labels, first to cover your nipples, then to indicate any brown spots aka liver spots or keratoses.
Finally, the scan machine. The right breast is placed flat, squeezed down by a plastic frame just to the point of pain. One arm is placed under the main structure, the other up and onto a hand-rest. You feel like a stage set in a piece of choreography. You are instructed not to move, not to breathe.
Same for the left breast. The machine is moved at an angle, breast positioned. This time your arm is held over your head with your chin turned away, your other arm down and around the edge of the machine. Don’t move, don’t breathe. Other breast, don’t move, don’t breathe.
Finally, the technician checks the scans to see if she has to take any more pictures.
When it’s a routine annual exam, which mine was today, I don’t even think about results. I don’t think about my sister’s experience more than 20 years ago, when she had her first diagnosis, or five years later for her second diagnosis, or eight years after that with her third, and final, diagnosis.