In which my vexatious breast get a check-up

by DaniGirl on September 17, 2009 · 13 comments

in It IS all about me, Life, the Universe and Everything

I‘ve been meaning to blog about my mammogram appointment for a while now, but I kept forgetting how many Ms were in mmamogram. In case you missed it, at my annual check-up this year my doctor pronounced me ridiculously healthy, at the lowest possible risk score for my age, except she found a “nodule” in my left breast. Talk about good news-bad news!

There isn’t any breast cancer in my family, but it seems to be rampant in my life right now. I have two close friends who have recently conquered it, a colleague who is battling it, more than one friend who has lost her mother to it, and one dear friend who will inevitably lose his sister to it — mother of two small children no less. So when the doctor found that nodule I locked the information into a tiny little box deep in my subconscious and decided not to even think about it until I had to. I decided I wasn’t even going to tell my Mom — definitely a first! — until after the mamogramm, lest I worry her for nothing. (And then, in typical fashion, I forgot that I had decided not to tell her and blogged about it, albeit obliquely, the day before the mmammogramm, resulting in a rather uncomfortable phone conversation. Sorry Mom!)

I didn’t know a lot about mamograms going in to the appointment, but my only-barely-supressed anxiety was ratcheted up another couple of notches by the fact that I had the mmamogram and an ultrasound on my breasts scheduled back-to-back, which seemed uncommon.

My appointment was for eight in the morning one sunny day at the end of last month. I thought I’d been all over the campus of the Civic hospital, between walking the labours of my first two babies, various and sundry appointments and visits over the years, and about a million appointments at the Parkdale Clinic fertility centre, but there’s a whole bunch of buildings on the east side to which I’d never been. The Women’s Breast Health Centre is in the Grimes building, which seems like a standalone clinic from the outside but has all the fixtures of the larger hospital campus.

Walking into the breast health centre, I was struck by their efforts to make the clinic a gentle, hushed sort of place. A far cry from the usual moulded plastic and harsh fluorescent lighting of most clinics, here the light is rather dimmed and provided by lamps with a French country sort of feel to them, the chairs are done in flowery upholstery and the colour scheme runs to salmon and teal. It struck me as about fifteen years out of date, almost humourously so in a charming sort of way, but still a nice attempt to soften the place up.

As I sat and waited for my turn, I flipped through the informational brochures about the mmamogram and breast ultrasound. (It’s a testament to the depth of my head-in-the-sand reaction that I did not seek any kind of information about the procedures, or the possibilities they might diagnose, before my appointment. La la la, I can’t hear you, this isn’t happening if I don’t acknowledge it…) As I took a long pull from the extra-large Tim’s coffee I’d brought with me, I read “you should refrain from drinking caffeine before your appointment because it may make your breasts more tender or lumpy.” Oops.

After a not-very-long wait, I was called in for the mamogramm itself. I stripped to the waist, and a very kind technician explained exactly what would be happening that day: I’d have the mmammogramm followed by an ultrasound of my breasts, and then I’d meet with someone to discuss the findings. My doctor would have the results within seven days. I asked for clarification: so, would I have an indication of what, if anything, they found that morning? Yes, she explained, they would discuss the findings and schedule a biopsy or discuss other next steps right away. Although I was highly impressed by the immediacy — I’m so used to the standard “Sorry, we can’t discuss anything with you, your doctor will inform you if there is anything you need to know” — I felt the first icy stab of fear at that moment. Biopsy? For just a moment, I felt a vertiginous sense of falling through space as the yawing possibilities opened up before me and hundreds of uncomprehensibly terrifying scenarios played out. This is not a joke, this is not a game, this is real and this is my life. It must have played across my face, too, because the technician reached out and gently touched my shoulder. She didn’t say a word, but her warm fingertip grounded me again as I reeled the panic in and the moment passed.

The mammogramm itself was not at all what I was expecting. You stand up against a rather intimidating machine, and the technician arranges your breast across a tablet adjusted to your height. Your breasts get squashed, one at a time, between two glass plates in a manner that made me think of the hamburger-patty maker my mother bought from a tupperware party in the 1970s. It doesn’t hurt, per se, so much as it’s uncomfortable and awkward. Apparently, they stretch and compress your breast this way so the x-ray for a mmamogramm requires much less radiation than a standard x-ray.

After ten or 15 minutes, I went into a second room and had my left breast, the one where the doctor thought she detected the nodule, examined by ultrasound. Between the fertility treatments, the miscarriages and three babies, I’ve had more ultrasounds than I can count — but never on my breast. She scanned the breast thoroughly, while I craned my neck to see the monitor (I think a part of my brain is forever hardwired to search an ultrasound monitor for that gorgeous flickering heartbeat of a nine-week old fetus) as if I had the faintest idea what I was looking for. As she stepped out of the room to compare her results with the radiologist, she reassured me that she could find no trace of a nodule anywhere near where the doctor had indicated on the requisition — but that didn’t stop me from getting up after she left to closely inspect the image left up on the monitor of my vexatious left breast. My professional worrier’s eye couldn’t find anything of note either, despite going cross-eyed in the pixellular analysis.

I’d settled back on the exam table, but still not taken my eyes off the monitor in some sort of talismanic trance, by the time she returned. She told me that they could find nothing even remotely of concern, so much so that I didn’t even have to bother with the post-mammogram consultation. I was good to go, but I should consider coming back regularly, every couple of years.

As I walked back to my car, I felt another hint of that vertiginous sense of fear, of disaster narrowly averted. It was the same breathless feeling that kept me up nights for a couple of weeks after the accident this summer, my brain swirling with all the things that could have happened but didn’t, thanks to the grace of God and dumb luck.

It was, and is, a beautiful morning.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 trixie September 17, 2009 at 10:35 am

Good, good news.

2 Valerie September 17, 2009 at 10:48 am

good to hear, Dani.

3 julie September 17, 2009 at 11:52 am

Thank you for this post. And I’m glad that it all worked out well in the end.

4 Ingrid September 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

And I love the permutations of the spelling of “mammogram” – kind of like the game “Where’s Waldo”.
Glad to hear it was good news!

5 Brenda September 17, 2009 at 12:41 pm

What a big breath I just let out as I sucked in my breath from the beginning of this post. Your discriptions surfaced a lot of emotion for me…I am just thrilled that yours was a better outcome!

6 Jody September 17, 2009 at 12:41 pm

I had this experience a few years ago, and I want to say, I LOVE the Tupperware hamburger-patty comparison. I had completely forgotten that thing! Wonder if it’s still at my dad’s house….

(You’re also reminding me that my mammogram happened because of aches under my right armpit that haven’t resolved, and maybe I should get another mamammogram and U/S just in case….)

7 Chantal September 17, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Very good to hear. My family history isn’t a good one and I have been having annual mammograms since I turned 30. I am always happy when they come back out and tell me I can go. I run out of that place as fast as I can. 🙂

8 colleen September 17, 2009 at 3:23 pm

What do you mean it didn’t hurt?

9 smothermother September 18, 2009 at 6:38 am


10 kgirl September 18, 2009 at 9:41 am

Oh good. It sounds scary, but at least you know now that everything is a-ok, and you have nothing to worry about. And I know exactly what you mean about expecting to see a little heart beating on every monitor.

11 Nat September 19, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Good news. I had an issue with a pain on my right side right around my ovary. Unfortunately, they made me wait for the results. But you’re right… it does feel like you’ve just dodged a bullet. Glad you did.

12 Amber September 19, 2009 at 5:19 pm

I’m glad to hear you got the all clear. I hope that it continues to be so. 🙂

13 Healthy Moms September 21, 2009 at 1:26 pm

That is wonderful news! All women should get regular mammograms.

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