No, this isn’t some kind of warped post where I talk about the perks of owning a pair of mammary glands, so look away now if you’re not grown up enough to cope with the subject without tittering, (or, as Frankie Howerd used to say, “Titter ye not…”)
A couple of weeks ago I was booked in to have a mammogram, but on the day of the appointment the machine broke down and I received a phone call to cancel it. (I won’t tell you how I spent the rest of the day imagining some poor lady with one of her boobs squished flat while technicians fixed the problem – ah, dammit, I just did!)
For those of you who aren’t au fait with mammograms, it’s where women go to have their breasts and lymph glands checked to ensure that they are cancer free and it involves standing/sitting in front of a scary-looking machine while another woman (medically trained, obviously) manoeuvres their breasts into the best possible position to see any potential problems.
I am not getting into the pros and cons of mammography here – that’s not what this post is about. Some people agree with it, others don’t, and it’s an informed decision that every woman has to make. Suffice it to say that a few years back, when I was in a really bad place (unexpectedly single, young child, little to no emotional support), I found a lump and needed one.*
So today was the day for a follow-up. Now I don’t know about the rest of you ladies, but if you’ve ever had one of these examinations you’ll know that they are not the most comfortable of things and you have to be a fairly capable contortionist: “Lean left, a bit more, arm up, armpit down, shoulder in, bottom out, hips right, breathe in, breathe out, breathe normally, DON’T MOVE! Great job, now reverse it…”, (try saying that in a Joan Rivers voice and you’ll have the entire experience in a nutshell). While you’re standing there, naked from the waist up, all you can think of is that another woman is rather more up close and personal than you’re used to and you hope she changed her gloves before she touched your boobs. And just as you get your head around that, she flattens one in between what looks like two sturdy Perspex sheets (think butterfly style skinless chicken breasts) and then flattens it some more. Yummy, huh? Does she go home and tell her family what she’s seen? All the different shapes and sizes she’s come across? The incongruities?
Yes, guys, (if any are still reading this) you probably already know that boobs are not necessarily symmetrical. Those perfect titillating pictures you see? Airbrushed by Buzz Lightyear (to infinity and beyond). That perfect pair of, um, melons you obsess over? Silicone valley, mostly. Shock alert for younger male readers – breasts are not always both exactly the same size; one nipple can be slightly higher than the other, or one will point left while the other points right. Breasts have veins … I know, gross, right? NOPE! That’s NORMAL honey-bun, get used to it. (You’ll thank me for knowing that when you grow up a bit and come face to face with the real thing, and if you do come across any of the above, DO NOT mention it to your lady-love, at least, not unless you never, ever want to clap eyes on a pair again – women talk to each other!) The key factor is that we women are all different shapes and sizes and each of us is lush and rather wonderful. Think about your own dangly bits for a second – are they symmetrical? Thought not.
Okay, back to the topic in hand: while I was waiting for my turn another lady came in and sat across from me. She smiled. I smiled. We were both united by concern for what the consequences of today could bring and, as women do, we got chatting. We laughed over my spectre of the malfunctioning equipment from the fortnight previously (apparently if someone had been trapped in it, there are wheels that can be moved by hand to release them, so that’s good to know), and we began to talk about the reasons why we were having it done. It transpired that having a mammogram 17 years ago had probably saved this lady’s life. As she put it, she was going into this today, one soldier down. She’d had a mastectomy, chemo and radiotherapy and has been cancer free ever since. “Done and dusted,” she said, with no embarrassment whatsoever. She smiled. I smiled. Underlying those smiles, both of us were wondering what today’s outcome would be. “Good luck,” she said as I went in for my turn, and, “Good luck,” I said when I came out.
I wish I’d been brave enough to give her a hug. I also wish that all women could talk like this; unashamedly, freely, with no embarrassment, at any time. We’re all in the same boat, and after all, it could affect any one of us. Cancer doesn’t care who you are, how rich you are, how nice you are or how tetchy or miserable.
So please make a point of checking yourselves regularly (learn how here: http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam/bse_steps ) and if you find something that alarms you don’t wait to see if it’ll go away of its own accord. Go to your doctor pdq. Don’t be embarrassed by your body – whatever shape, size, colour or creed you are, you are perfect. Take care of yourselves.
‘Til next time,
*For anyone who was concerned, the lump I found hurt when I touched it and I could move it around with my fingers – as a general tip, I was told that ‘if it hurts, it’s probably not going to cause a long-term hurt’, and thankfully they were right. It was aspirated and that was it, done and dusted, apart from regular check-ups. I was one of the lucky ones and my heart goes out to those who aren’t so lucky.