Friday, November 20, 2009

So I Don't Need A Mammogram

A panel of experts, always a scary thought, have determined that women in their 40's no longer need a regular mammogram. The funny thing is that my doctor didn't think I needed one every year anyway, at least not yet. I've had one so far, and that was enough for me, and that was to establish a baseline so future mammograms would have a basis for comparison. The panel says that we don't need the yearly until we're 50 years old, but then what are we comparing that mammogram too? Since I have no family history of breast cancer, for which I humbly thank God, my doctor agreed that I didn't need a yearly mammogram but should have one every 5 years. Also, I don't think I would have subjected myself to that once a year. If you've never had a mammogram, please allow me a few moments to describe the process to you.

To begin the process, you are referred by your doctor to a group of sadists. There you go and sit in a waiting room until you are called. At that point you are escorted into a cubicle where you remove your top and bra, and even your deodorant, and replace it with a very stylish blue paper gown. Then you are taken down a hall to a small room dominated by the device which is about to torture you and change your perspective on life forever.

The mammogram machine is monstrous and at this point you might feel a little trepidations over literally offering your breasts up on a platter. Then the woman who has escorted you, assists you in stripping off one side of the blue paper gown and grabs hold of your breast and begins tugging and pulling on it like taffy. She then adjusts a few knobs so the platter is perfectly positioned for the breast about to be sacrificed upon it. Using your breast as a leash, the woman will now pull you forward until you are smashed up against the edge of the platter and your breast is placed upon it to her satisfaction. Then the real fun begins.

Another plate begins to lower until it sits upon the breast, and then it keeps lowering, and lowering, and lowering. To add to the degradation and humiliation of this process, the top plate is clear so that you can see your breast flatten and spread like cookie dough under a rolling pin. (I apologize for the food references but even thinking about this process causes a craving for comfort food). Still it gets worse. Upon that clear plate is a dotted line etching of a breast complete with nipple. I believe it is placed there only to mock you. Like having a mammogram wasn't traumatic enough, now you have this etched breast as a comparison to your own. I may have no family history of breast cancer, but I sure have a family history of breasts. So I stood and watched my boob flatten and spread well beyond the boundaries of that outline. For a brief moment I feared that she would squish until it oozed over the side of the plate itself. I can only imagine what it's like to have your breast smashed into nonexistence and still not fill out that dotted line. sadistic woman who does this all day everyday says to you, "Now don't move." Where How demoralizing.

Once you are standing there, pressed hard against the edge of that plate and your breast smashed beyond the point of pain and crossing the threshold to agony, the the hell would I be going with my breast held captive in a two ton machine bolted to the floor? But I comply and don't move an inch. The last thing I want is to have to go through this again because the image was fuzzy. There's also the fact that I'm a bit of a klutz. I bump into walls and trip over imaginary lumps in the carpet, so I have this image of moving and stumbling and being left dangling from this machine by nothing but my right breast. At this thought I begin to sweat.

The woman returns and lifts the plate allowing me a brief minute to sigh in relief before she begins pulling on my tortured breast again. This isn't over. We're going for another view. Now my poor mammary glands get to be pressed into a side view. The process recommences but at least this time I can't see the spread. Again she leaves advising me not to move. Again she returns, and now the worst of all of the views comes.

It is time for the diagonal view of the breast which includes the lymph nodes. This means that she tugs and pulls and pushes in order to get my underarm into the vice. She pulls until I swear that everything from my back is in my front and my left breast is at least in my armpit if not protruding from my back as my right breast and any other available tissue is placed on the platter. This is by far the most painful of all of the views and again she tells me not to move. There's not a chance of movement as even breathing hurts in this position. She's gone for what feels like hours before coming back and releasing me, but by this time I'm on the verge of tears. When my poor beleaguered breast is finally released and tucked back inside the blue paper gown, I'm tempted to collapse and sob in relief that this is over, but then I'm that we must do the entire process again on the other breast as the blue paper gown disappears from my other side.

By the time I leave my mammogram, I'm ready to stick my thumb in my mouth, curl into the fetal position and whimper for at least three hours.

My question is this, why, if a mammogram really doesn't do anything to save lives, are we subjected to this process? The reason is that it does save lives. The panel even acknowledges that it saves lives, but it doesn't believe it saves enough lives to be warranted. Say what? Since it only saves 1 life for every 1,900 women in their 40's tested, we don't need them anymore. Oh, OK, so those women who are saved by the routine mammogram can just die now without them. That's way more cost effective don't you think?

I find it really interesting that with all of the talk about the importance of preventative care in keeping medical costs down, that we now have a panel saying we don't need this preventative care. In reality, the decision on whether or not to have a yearly mammogram is up to you and your doctor and not a panel of so called experts. If your doctor thinks you need one, then take some serious pain killers and go get squished.

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