Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Day I Became a Woman

I knew this day would come, but already? In December, I got a referral from my doctor for a mammogram. Today was the day. I went to the Rita J. Kaplan Breast Imaging Center at Bellevue Hospital.

After I walked the busy corridors of the main floor of the hospital, I made it to the Third floor, West Wing. The walls are painted a light pink with floral wall border. It was a stark contrast to the rest of the hospital I had seen. After checking in at the desk and receiving my ID wrist tag, I took a seat in the main waiting room.

Visibly, I was by far the youngest woman in there. 58, 67, 70 -- those were the years of birth I overheard. I wondered if the demographic of the waiting room would change as more younger women are diagnosed with breast cancer. I shook my head at the soap opera chosen to entertain us. I was thankful when that was interrupted by the President's press conference.

After another mispronunciation of my name, I was handed a gown and directed to the pink dressing rooms. "Waist up."

That same directive was given to all the women, in one form or another. A woman joined us in the second waiting room with her shoes off. No socks. Totally barefoot. Don't ask. I did notice the guarded posture of the rest of the women in there -- arms folded over their chests, hands full of paper gowns bunched up at their necks, shoulders hunched. A room full of women and they were all trying to hide their breasts. I had a nip slip (Hefty Lefty peeked out to see what was going on) so I went to the restroom to adjust my gown.

After I put Hefty Lefty back in

President Obama talked about independent, intelligent women voters making their decisions in the 2012 election not simply based on the contraception debate. I was called into the exam room.

It was comfortably dark. The radiologist was a pretty woman. She asked the identification questions I'd been answering all afternoon. Then she asked if this was my first mammogram. "Yes."

"You're not pregnant, right?"


While she wiped the compression plates down, she explained the procedure -- she would take 3 images of my breast, maybe 4 depending on how the images looked on the screen. I was getting a digital mammography.

First was the axial or horizontal image. She started with Hefty Lefty. "You're gonna feel a little compression..." Yeah, compression is right. I was instructed to relax my shoulders and arms and not to bend my knees. My breast was flattened from top to bottom. I held in a laugh thinking about how awkward I must've looked. I was only in that "position" for a few seconds, then she did the right breast. It was a bit more uncomfortable on the right because there's less to work with so the radiologist had to maneuver the breast tissue a little more.

Breasts during mammogram are much flatter than they appear above

I had to wipe off my deodorant  before having the second image done. Deodorant shows up in the images like a calcification she explained. The second image was the sagittal image -- the plates of the machine squeezed my breast from both sides. The radiologist instructed me to raise my chin. When it was Righty's turn I had to be reminded to raise my chin because I was so busy studying her new flattened form.

The third image was a diagonal image and that one felt like it got every bit of tissue -- I could feel it in my neck and shoulder. On my right side, the skin of my armpit was pulled taut.

The entire procedure took less than 10 minutes. My results will be mailed to me. And based on them, my doctor will decide if I'll need to get a mammography yearly or wait until my 40's. I haven't started wearing bras again. Now if only I can remember to take my Vitamin D supplements daily...

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