I have a friend who recently had a scare after a mammogram. Fortunately, her follow up showed she was in the clear. While she was waiting for her second test, she mentioned that she was nervous. I shared that I had undergone a surgery to remove a cyst from my left breast when I was twenty three, and that the biopsy had came back normal. I reassured her she would have similar results.
She hesitated to talk to me about her mammogram, because she assumed I was too young to understand what she was going through. She was surprised to find out I had undergone a biopsy at such a young age. I don’t know how common of a procedure it is, but I have spoken with many women who have had similar experiences, so I don’t think it is unusual.
The cyst was actually discovered when I was around eighteen years old. My doctor at the time advised that I had nothing to worry about and to return to the doctor if it got any bigger. Not long after that, I became too old to be on my parent’s insurance plan, and did not have it checked again for five years.
At twenty three, my boyfriend of the time said “Um, you have a lump.” I told him I was well aware of my lump, and that I had it checked out five years prior. He didn’t say anything else, but his comment embarrassed me. I imagined myself as some sort of freak with lumpy hard boobs. I speculated that he was disgusted every time he touched me. I would like to say it was responsibility for my health that caused me to return to the doctor. It was actually my new health insurance plan and my vanity that prompted me to make the appointment.
My new doctor advised that he too thought it was a cyst, but that I should have it removed anyway. He wanted to ensure it wasn’t cancerous, and he also did not want the cyst to obstruct other anomalies from being noted on future mammograms. I had the cyst removed by outpatient surgery, and was sent of my way.
After my bandages were removed, I examined the scar while looking in the mirror. I hated it. The doctor had made a cut on the underside of my left breast, approximately one and a half inches long. The line looked stark and red against my white skin. To me, it cut a crude and violent path against one of the most delicate parts of my body. To anyone else, I’m sure it was barely noticeable, tucked underneath my breast. But to me, it was a blazing badge of imperfection. I wanted to cry every time I saw it.
I had the surgery right around the time of my birthday. My party persona was the girl who got drunk, ripped her clothes off and went streaking down the street (I’m sure my mom is so glad to read that.) What can I say, I have always been a bit of a nudist. Still am. I recall being very upset that I had a huge birthday costume party coming up, and that I would not want to streak, lest anyone catch a glimpse of my horrendously ugly scar. Well as is often the case, booze overcame insecurity, and the night ended in my usual naked jaunt around the block.
I was reminded of this experience today, because I went in for my first mammogram. Part of the exam is to ask if I have had any prior biopsies. I responded yes, and the technician asked me to show her where the scar was. I showed her the small line on the underside of my breast. The angry red scar has faded to the point it is practically invisible. The technician had to step closer and look carefully to see where it had once been. I thought about taking a picture to upload with this posting, but there really is almost nothing there to see- just a patch of freakishly white skin that never sees the sun.
The pain of a mammogram has been greatly exaggerated. Ok, every person’s sensitivity is different. But I expected my boob to be flattened to pancake proportions, but it looked more along the lines of a small loaf of sourdough squished between the glass. Each position was slightly uncomfortable, but only lasted a couple of seconds. After waiting 45 minutes, the exam itself was about five minutes long and then I was on my way to the Dunkin Donuts outside the parking lot.
The process of getting into the various positions proved to be interesting though. I assumed I stepped up to the plate, the boob got squished and I would head out the door (ok, probably I would put my shirt back on first). But the technician kept making tiny adjustments to my body’s positioning- “relax your shoulders, bend slightly at the waist, turn your head towards me, grip gently with your fingers, place your other arm at your side.” It almost felt like a dance as she gently maneuvered my body into position- almost. Then she smashed my tit between two plates, and the waltz was over.
She kept reminding me to breathe. The first time it happened, I thought she was being a bit dramatic. I mean, I wasn’t particularly nervous about the routine exam. Then I realized I was in fact holding my breath. I let it go, and sure enough, my body relaxed with the exhale.
I am still on the young side for a mammogram. I am thirty eight, and I believe most initial mammograms are done at forty. But I have a family history. I could have actually had my initial at thirty five, but I was pregnant and breastfeeding for a few years.
We are never too young or too old to start taking charge of our health. We hear it frequently, but take the time to do an exam. If you notice something you don’t feel comfortable with, don’t wait for a boyfriend or husband to tell you to go to the doctor. Don’t let vanity or embarrassment or anything else stand in the way of your health.
I made peace with my little scar long ago. I honestly haven’t give it any thought for many years. When I was prompted to think about it, all I felt was relieved that I had that lump removed long ago. In the lifelong battle, vanity is a strong competitor, but peace of mind is tough to beat.