3 years ago

For those of you who don’t know, I just turned 40 in June. If you know my kids, however, don’t tell them. I tell them I am 29 and they aren’t good enough at math to figure out how old I really am yet.

Being 40 has a lot of benefits. I haven’t actually experienced any of them yet, but I am certain there have to be some.  Whoops…I lied. I have experienced one of the benefits of turning 40: It beats the alternative.

As fantastic as that benefit is, turning 40 also has a few drawbacks.  I know that’s really hard to believe but it’s true. It all began at my recent annual appointment.

I go to see the gynecologist every year. Usually there is a pap smear, some poking and prodding below the belt, and a breast exam. This is the standard run down, so to speak. When you turn 40, however, they make a change. You now must have a mammogram, too.

My nurse came in to my room and asked me where I wanted to go for my mammogram, downstairs or to the office in Santa Ana. This is a really easy choice. Downstairs is a fancy suite that is decorated like a spa or a beauty salon. I can only imagine what the office in Santa Ana looked like but it would be hard to top this place. I had passed "downstairs" many times on my way up to my doctor's office. Before today, however, I thought it was where you had implants done not where you had them examined.

"Downstairs," I answered. She gave me the referral and after my Gyno appointment I went down to the swanky suite to make my mammogram appointment. 

I was greeted professionally and processed graciously. It felt like I was making an appointment at a hair salon. They gave me an appointment card and told me not to wear any deodorant, powder, perfume, or anything other beauty products the day of the exam. Then they smiled at me and sent me on my way and that was that.

I was nervous when I pulled into the parking lot of the medical center a couple of weeks later. I had been here a lot of times, but never for this.  I didn’t know exactly what to expect, although I had a pretty good idea based on movies, friend’s accounts of their experience, and my wild imagination (which is hardly ever wrong).

I made my way up to the office/spa and pushed open the large glass door that read West Coast Breast Center in a swirly font. The waiting room is long and narrow with large upholstered chairs with turned legs and fine brocade fabric. The entire wall of glass windows resembled a storefront that faced out into the institutional looking hallway of the medical center. The waiting room had a couple other women there, none of whom looked excited to be there.

After I checked in they handed me a few forms to fill out. They were standard don’t sue us forms and releases allowing the insurance company to pay them. I thought that was weird. If you have insurance why on earth would you ever mark the box that says, “Insurance company should not pay the doctor?” Anyway, once the forms were done, they whisked me back to a dressing room of sorts. 

There were three doors inside the second waiting room. Each one looked like a dressing room booth at a store, except the door went to the floor and instead of fine couture you were trying on a long, shapeless gown. The nurse instructed me to take off everything from the waist up and make sure the gown opened in the front.

Simple right? Not so much. I struggled with the ties on that gown for five minutes. The ribbon was made of a material that is repellant to itself, so every time you tied any of the strings together, they instantly untied.  Futhermore, the gown was one-size-fits-giant so even when it was tied it wasn’t closed all the way.

After a few minutes, I had rigged the gown closed along the front and gathered my things up to sit down in the adjoining waiting area. I noticed that there was a sign in a fancy gold frame that read in a graceful font to “Keep your purse with you at all times.”  That seemed like an odd instruction for such a pleasant font. Had they had a rash of purse theft here at the breast spa? Heeding the sign, however, I kept mine close.

Before I could even finish looking through my Facebook news feed, the tech showed up to usher me back to my exam. She was my height, had curly blonde hair, glasses and no make up on. She was dressed in blue scrubs and wore Crocs on her feet. When I stood up to greet her, my gown fell open like J Lo’s Versace dress, barely concealing the goods. I clutched it closed quickly, not knowing how soon the illusion of modesty would be destroyed. I followed her down the hall to the exam room.

My tech was efficient and pleasant enough. Her technique was part booking officer and part Disney Jungle Cruise guide.  She was stern about things like keeping your hands to the side and which way to face, but then she threw in a couple of jokes that you know had been around a while like, “Warm body part, meet cold machine” and “Comfort is not a concern for this portion of the exam.”

Those of you who have had a mammogram know that her second comment was no joke. It was an ominous warning delivered in a light-hearted tone.

To summarize my experience, I was surprised by how much smooshing was involved. Here’s how it works. You put your breast up on a little table, with a little help from Officer Friendly (!) who handles you like a steak at Costco. Then she literally puts a clear plastic lid on top of your boob and smashes you flat like a breast Panini sandwich.

I caught a quick, horrified glance at my smashed up boob before I was reprimanded for getting my chin in the shot. And then again, when I raised my chin back up, for moving around too much.

The really good news is that you get to do the boob smoosh from two different angles. So far I had seen my boob being mistreated from the top view. Now I got to see it smashed under the glass from the side. This angle is way more uncomfortable, so I was wincing a little and started to squirm and that got me in trouble again.

Between sides, I desperately tried to salvage this experience with a little conversation. Thinking quickly, I asked why we can’t wear deodorant or perfume or anything. She said because it shows up on the image. I thought that was reasonable, if not obvious. But then I learned from a conversation that can only be described as too much sharing that some women get yeast infections under their large breasts during summer months and can’t use anything to treat it before their exams.  


I was sure happy that she used a wipe on the machine after we were done although there was no risk of yeast infection under my rack. Heck, I fail the pencil test!

She told me I was done and said, “See you next year!” on my way out the door. 

I get to come for one of these every year?  Fantastic!

All kidding aside, mammograms are really important. Early detection is your best bet for beating breast cancer. Breast cancer can occur in anyone, anytime with no history of breast cancer in their family and no behaviors that contribute to it. So while it is not pleasant, it is necessary. Also, most insurance plans cover them 100%.

So if you haven’t gone yet, go. And when you do, be sure to keep your purse with you at all times.

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