Sunday, November 4, 2007

Chapter 5 ~ Mammogram

Photo by
Brendon Stuart

The mammogram didn’t go well from the outset. When I checked in at the Women’s Center, the receptionist wanted paperwork I didn’t have.

“Do you have the referral from your primary care physician?” she asked cheerfully. She was young and blonde and wearing blue scrubs, as if she was working in an operating room. I wondered if they performed surgeries in back.

“No, I don’t. The person I made an appointment with said she would take care of that,” I cheerfully replied.

“Who did you make the appointment with?”

“I don’t remember.” I scanned the room behind the small window which separated her domain from mine. Besides her own, there were three other desks, but one was empty and the other two held women busily talking on the phone. “She said since I was having this symptom—” I leaned my head through the window and whispered, “liquid is coming out of my nipple—there would be no trouble getting the referral, that she could just call the office and they would fax it over.”

“Let’s see.” She looked at her computer screen. “Nope. It says right here that the patient will get the referral.”

“Well, that’s not what she told me on the phone.” I was becoming frustrated. “She said she would take care of it.”

“She wouldn’t have told you that.”

“But she did tell me that!” I felt suddenly angry and slightly embarrassed that I had raised my voice. “Does it say there whom I spoke to (I used my English teacher diction)? Is she here?”

“Unfortunately, she’s not here today.”

The receptionist wanted me to go away and come back another day, after I had made my appointment properly, but I was persistent. I didn’t want to wait another day, which would more likely be a week, and eventually I was brought to a small office containing an ancient woman with white hair styled like spun sugar who was wearing an orangey-pink jumper over a long-sleeved white blouse—the uniform of the hospital volunteer. She allowed me use her phone while she filed index cards. Her heavy gold bracelet and brightly painted fingernails looked clownish on her shriveled, mottled hands and made eerie clacking sounds on the desk as she worked. After several minutes, I got hold of someone in my doctor’s office who could fax over the necessary form, and soon the receptionist was once again cheerfully patronizing me, herding me into a back room where I was told to take off my shirt and put on a white and blue print gown.

Once I was changed, I sat in a waiting room with several other gowned women who were talking quietly and reading magazines. There was an air of camaraderie not present when men are in the mix. “I dodged the bullet on that one,” one elderly woman remarked to the room at large as she came back from her procedure. “I was worried about a lump in my breast, but he said there was nothing wrong.” I picked up a copy of Vanity Fair with several beautiful women in evening gowns on the cover and started reading an article on Marlon Brando, who had just died the year before. He had always been troubled, it told me. He couldn’t accept his talent. He didn’t want people to treat him like a star.

When my name was finally called, I found I liked the mammogram technician better than the receptionist. She had reddish-brown, shoulder length hair cut straight with bangs and wore a white lab coat over black pants. When I told her about my symptom, she put me at ease, saying she had experienced the same thing, and even had to have a biopsy, but the results turned out fine. “What color is your discharge?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I haven’t seen it directly. I just keep noticing spots on my shirts.”

“You haven’t tried to express it?” she asked, using a breastfeeding term for squeezing your breast rhythmically to urge the milk out. I shook my head. But as she positioned my breast on the machine, squeezing it between two plastic plates, a little liquid emerged. “Oh, there it is,” she said cheerfully. “It’s just milky white. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

She took several shots, repositioning my breast each time, placing my arm high and then low, moving the massive machine this way and that, and always remembering to insert new heavy film plates before stepping back behind a protective shield and pushing the button. Then she asked me to sit and wait while she brought the plates to the radiologist to see if she had gotten good shots. I sat in the darkened room, reading about Marlon Brando’s island in Polynesia. It was there that his son shot and killed his daughter’s boyfriend. He went to prison. She hung herself.

When the technician came back, she said she needed two more shots. “I didn’t do it right,” she joked, but I began to feel afraid.

“Does that mean something’s wrong?” I asked her.

“Not necessarily. I know it’s scary, but most of the time it’s just that the patient moved or the angle wasn’t right so something isn’t clear.”

We took two more pictures and I was sitting back on the chair reading when Dr. Brand loomed into the room with the technician close behind him.

“We’re seeing something suspicious on the film,” he said, standing before me in a pressed white shirt and tie. I felt at a disadvantage, seated, in my baggy hospital gown. “What we’re seeing is a lot of calcification, which could be a normal result of aging, or it could be the by-product of a particular type of pre-cancerous condition.”

I instantly started to cry. We both pretended not to notice as I asked a few, perfunctory questions. "What do you mean by calicification? What do you mean by pre-cancerous condition?"

“What you’ll need to do next is schedule a biopsy on the way out so we can determine exactly what is going on in the breast,” he concluded our interview quickly.

The technician tried to comfort me, squeezing my arm as she walked me back to the lockers where my shirt and jacket were stored.

The woman scheduling biopsies was also supportive. “Don’t worry,” she told me. “It’s probably nothing. Eighty percent of our biopsies turn out to be benign.” But that particular number didn’t reassure me. Eighty percent. Since my maternal grandmother had breast cancer, and my mother died of it, it seemed likely that one of Mom’s children would get it, too. And there were five of us. Five daughters. So I calculated that Claire, Jane, Jean and Francine were the 80 percent who would have benign biopsies, while I was the chosen—the sacrificial sister.

I was the 20 percent.

Read the next chapter HERE, or buy a paperback copy of Count All This HERE.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home