Sometime in the fall I missed my call to duty. The reminder letter did come from Central Baptist Breast Imaging reminding me that it was “time”; according to their records I was due for my annual mammogram. But I thought their dates were off. Seriously, it seemed like just a few months ago I had been there. So I put the letter aside with plans to call and confirm it was indeed time. But time got away from me, as it does in the life of a busy mom, and before I knew it Spring was knocking on the door and my doctor was asking me why I hadn’t had my mammogram in the fall. Ooops.
So Monday found me recovering from our spring break vacation (or really the LONG drive home) and slogging myself over to the Radiologist. All clerical duties completed, I waited, clothes in a plastic bag, flipping magazines, shivering in a hospital gown, to be summoned back to the torture chamber. Once in the inner sanctum I assumed the position (ladies you know the one; men you probably have your own to reminisce about, or not). Even more chilled with one breast exposed, I leaned in toward the monstrous machine, feet all askew, and awaited the descent of its vice like grip on my female appendage. “Oh how I hate this process,” I thought.
It’s not about the modesty really. I am actually okay with the nudity thing. I mean they are just breasts and I fed my kids with them for years so what’s the big deal anyway? Rather it is the procedure. The “nipple” stickers, the technician’s frosty fingers, the inhuman machine plates, the pain as the tissue is squeezed in a way that certainly is was not meant to be. On this occasion I looked down at my poor breast through the transparent plate and thought, “My gosh, it looks like a pancake from Cracker Barrel!”
But almost as soon as my usual I-hate-this thought came to mind another thought took its place. What of all the women in the world who did not have access to such medical science? Who, though blocks from a high tech hospital in a thriving metropolitan city did not have the insurance and/or personal funds to cover the procedure. Or who lived in the backwaters of some third-world-nation which couldn’t claim a decent x-ray machine among its laboratory inventory, let alone a mammogram machine. Or who have never heard of a mammogram but still know all too well about breast cancer: insidious disease, stealer of mothers, daughters, sisters.
Since I just finished Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, in part about the peoples of war-torn, medically deprived Burundi, it was the women of Kigitu that came to mind as I heard in the distance the technicians trained orders, “Now, hold your breath…and breathe.” But of course it could be any women, American or Pakistani, African or Asian. Any women who do not have the choice to “hate the process” and have their breasts squished and examined, dissected and radiated, medicated and, with much hope and prayer, healed.
So on this day of my daily mammogram, I will have a new thought: “I love this process, or the very least the fact that I have a chance to hate the process.”
Postscript: Since beginning this piece earlier this week I have become aware of two more friends diagnosed with breast cancer. So I post this with some trepidation. Do I sound too flippant? Do I sound as if I welcome the awful news that these women have been recently bestowed, all because they did their duty and now have to face the news such duty might bring? Do they wish that they didn’t have this duty, so that could have blindly proceeded on, unawares? I don’t know. I can only speak for myself and say that no matter how much I hate what I could be told I would rather have the choice to be told then have no choice.