Those commands can be jarring and, of course, constricting. It’s what the technician says when you’re getting a mammogram. If I move, will something else show up on the film? If I breathe, will that appear as something abnormal on the test?
While waiting for my results, I heard the technician in the room next door offer similar instructions to her patient. It was probably the woman in the yellow sweat pants and shoulder-length blonde hair. She’d been accompanied by her boyfriend or husband. I was among a handful of women, all of us white except for a woman rescheduling an appointment, at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance that day.
It had been two years since my last mammogram. Yes, that is a confession and I was raised Catholic. I was overdue, I know. But the last time I went, my visit was so traumatic and I still felt a bit scarred, and anxious. I needed a biopsy, which was incredibly stressful. And research that I’d read (and helped to promote by Dr. Joann Elmore of the Univ. of Washington) about false positive exams and the toll that can take … well, I was living it two years ago.
I felt a heaviness in my left breast in the days leading up to this appointment. That’s the one that has a small titanium rod in it, following the biopsy. Writing that makes me want to sing, of course: I’m bullet-proof, nothing to lose, fire away, fire away. I then started thinking that I might be mentally causing some malignancy by having these negative thoughts. The power of positive thinking, it’s important, experts say.
When I booked an appointment, I had the option of immediate results or waiting for them to be mailed. I grabbed the first option, not wanting to go through what I’d experienced before. If something was up, let’s discuss it and keep moving forward.
The technician was great. We talked about traffic on the way to work. Mine was easy, given that I lived right down the street, and even if there was a slow-moving truck in front of me. She had a drive that took more than one hour. I wore a dress to my appointment, not the best choice given the gown you have to change into. She helped me keep mostly covered up in my exposed state. It was just us girls in the room, any way. Right arm out first, and then left, and then repeat for side views. Don’t move, don’t breathe. I asked her how things looked. She said the slides looked the same as the last time I was there (a positive, I thought).
She asked if I wanted something to drink, water, after the screening was finished. I said that water would be great. I needed to stay in my robe and not change back into my clothes, she said, because the radiologist might want more pictures. The water never arrived. My magazine options were US Magazine and a cancer care and research journal. I stayed away from the latter, remembering how I made myself a little crazy the last time by reviewing my medical chart.
The technician knocked on my door and very formally announced my name. It was the same woman who had helped me the day of my biopsy two years ago. She said my slides looked fine, and I could come back in one year. I told her we’d met before, the last time I was at the center. She looked in my chart and said oh, yes, I see my signature here. Of course she’s seen a million patients. But I remember her helping me get through that difficult day. And I was grateful that she delivered the good news this week, too.