Life introduces people to many firsts . . . first solid food, first bike ride without training wheels, first kiss, etc. Females experience firsts exclusive to their sex: first menstruation (icks), first brassiere (my dad’s reference to this item of clothing), for some, a first birth, and for the fortunate forty-year-olds a first mammogram. As of yesterday, October, 18, 2011, I am one of the fortunate to have completed all of the above.
Interestingly enough, I can remember crying at the sight of my first menstruation and wishing it away. The tears fell not from fear, but from the dread of becoming this “woman” with all of her adult responsibilities. I wanted to simply remain the girl I was without having to deal, for starters, with female hygienic issues. Then, ultimately the dread of having to wear a bra. Witnessing the boys in elementary school snapping girls’ bras created a further sense of doom. I liked to run, bike, and swim. I didn’t want these growths sticking out of my chest and hampering my tomboy lifestyle, so I tucked my undershirt in tight in order to smash what little development had occurred and hunched forward a bit in the hopes of fooling my mom (and the boys). As you can imagine, the jig was up in due time, and I found myself mortified standing in Kmart alongside my mother who was scanning the lingerie racks for my size (I didn’t want to be a size anything). Blue light special or not, I wanted to run for the hills.
Now, at age forty, I have learned to tolerate the twins and have no problem searching the lingerie racks at Kohls for what I refer to as “boob cages.” Although the “ta tas” fell short when I attempted to breastfeed my squirts, I had to give them some slack due to complications with preeclampsia. All is forgiven . . .
Facing the mammogram, apprehension ensued since my right twin was beginning to act out with some spontaneous discharge and red streaking. Thus, instead of a routine mammogram, I had to first meet with a breast surgeon. Prior to our meeting, I was ordered a heavy dose of antibiotics in case of infection and am pleased to announce the red streak vanished. Yeah team! However, since the surgeon felt a nodule, a mammogram and ultrasound was the plan du jour. Given a pink robe (with missing belt) to wear, I was kindly escorted to a waiting area with other women wearing the same pink robes (belts included).
These ladies seemed cool and collected and spanned various age ranges. A beautiful silver-haired lady was entranced in a book (should have taken her picture for my blog) while a youthful twenty-something was hurriedly texting. I wondered if I looked as cool and collected when I knew I was full of uncertainty and trepidation. I responded to e-mail via my phone and then scanned the room while a woman was sporadically appearing from behind a door marked “MAMMO” and calling various names . . . “Miss So- and- So” with much kindness in the tone of her voice.
Having once taught an ethnography (a branch of anthropology dealing with the scientific description of individual cultures) writing course, I realized at that moment in time I was immersed in a culture whose story needed to be told and told and told. Giggling on the inside, these ladies and I were, in essence, on the same team with our pink “uniforms.” Although on the same team, we simply nodded to one another and/or smiled. No strategies were discussed amongst ourselves or high-fives exchanged. Perhaps, this could be deemed our private time for individual preparation (finding our zone) before the big game.
Noticing a framed set of tiles on the wall, I knew I needed a picture, but attempted to be inconspicuous while taking the shot.
Assuming these were tiles created by breast cancer warriors, I wanted to take the time and savor their work; “An apple a day didn’t keep the doctor away” and “Duct tape fixes everything; try it” were two of my favorites. Alas, though, “Miss Winkler” was called, and I was able to glimpse what was awaiting behind that door. . .
Finally coming face to face with the opponent, I was not looking forward to what my buddy referred to as the smashing of the boobs. After a brief history was entered into the computer, I was asked to disrobe one side of my upper body and place the body part in question on the machine. The clear tray lowered and lowered and lowered onto my poor “girl” and felt like someone had placed a concrete block in its place. “Ouch,” I mumbled as my breast seemed to be separating from the skin near my shoulder. Yet, after being told to hold my breath, the clear tray was quickly lifted, and the radiologist was soon adjusting my other “girl” on the machine. Luckily, there was no time for modesty; the radiologist manipulated my “twins” with experienced, deliberate movements, and I was told to return to the waiting area. Crossing my beltless pink robe in front of me and carrying my jacket and purse, I returned to my seat in the waiting area and noticed some new faces had joined the “team.”
Just as I was eyeing my bag and wishing I had prepared better by including water in it, a voice interrupted the silence asking if anyone was interested in a bottle of water. With a grin on my face, I retrieved some water from the trick or treat bowl she was carrying and promptly quenched my thirst. Score!
While wondering what the stories were of the other women seated on this metaphorical pink team bench, another voice called me by my first name and escorted me into the ultrasound room. Lying on the bed next to the ultrasound machine, I was thinking how reassuring it was to have a woman surgeon, woman ob/gyn, and woman radiologist when entered a young, tall, dark, handsome male doctor stage right. Nice!
After he and his supervisor both had a look with the ultrasound, I was informed I had an enlarged duct in my right breast. Told my surgeon would come up with a plan, I was walked back to the initial examining room and told to dress. Through the thin walls, I could hear ladies exiting their rooms and told to schedule mammograms for a year from this date. Yeah pink teammates!
Soon, a knock was heard on my door, though, and coach (i.e. the female, close-to-my-age surgeon) entered the room and thoroughly explained the duct excision procedure I was to have. Responding with, “Sounds great! Let’s do it . . .” I really just wanted to exit the office, make a call, and hear the voice of my number-one fan, the hub.
Feeling better having shared the news with my lover and best friend, I purchased a breast cancer awareness cookie from the cafeteria (chocolate cookie with pink M&Ms) and pink bulbs from the Siteman Cancer Center in order to benefit breast cancer research. Thrilled with the odds of my procedure being nothing but routine, I couldn’t help but think about the other women I laid eyes on earlier in the day in the waiting room and hoping their news, too, turned out to be just as routine.