Today I went in for my annual booby squishing appointment. Having been a “victim” of breast cancer, I have to have them every year. Compared to the one where the cancer was initially discovered, these are a cake walk. In that initial visit, the doctors could see some specks at the top of the film and therefore assumed the specks were in my armpit. They spent the next hour and a half attempting to squish my skinny shoulder into the mammogram machine. It did not work. It hurt. Finally they figured out that it was possible that the specks could be on the other side of my breast, towards the center of my chest. One try at that location and voila! Pay dirt. A lesson learned that day that has since been reiterated is that mammograms are easier if one is fleshier. There is more flesh to grab in the flat, plastic jaws.
Today’s mammogram was relatively simple. I knew from previous visits that mammogram appointments mean waiting around, so I brought some knitting. This visit was in the new “Safeway Cancer Center.” I hate it when medical facilities or sporting facilities or any facility that isn’t what is being used is named for some corporation. If I go into a grocery store and it is called Safeway, fine. If I go into an office supply store and it is called Staples, so be it. However, I don’t want to go somewhere that is going to squish my boobs and have it called Safeway. It’s too much of a non-sequitur. But as is often the case, I digress.
The new booby squishing center was clearly designed with the needs of women in mind. In fact, it looked like they got together a focus group from Lifetime television and Oprah to create a calm, breathable space, in calm, mellow colors, with calm, earthy tones. All of this is spoken in a calm, monotone voice. One enters a lovely, spacious lobby with a fountain. Let the deep breathing and Ohms begin. You are escorted into a high-ceilinged, glass-enclosed waiting area. Nearly immediately you are called back into the “guest space” –a nice name for another waiting room. But wait, there’s more! This space is lavishly furnished with low-slung chairs and sofas. Surrounding this loungey place are all the doors to the little rooms where one leaves one’s top attire and personal belongings in a locker. Each “guest” has a personal escort to show them their own special dressing room. This person then informs them that there is coffee and tea in the corner for them while they wait. Dutifully, the guests remove their top garments, lock all of it in the specially-designed wooden locker (nothing like the banging metal contraption I had in high school, these are sleek, wooden, and smell brand-new). One exits the personal dressing room to wait in the low-slung chairs. Calm, watery, pan flute music fills the air, further adding to the illusion that one is away at a spa, awaiting a massage and relaxation, rather than waiting to have one’s boobs squashed beyond recognition. All of it is an illusion to distract us from the fact we are squishing our boobs to catch cancer. A couple of the women, when they spoke, betrayed in their quivering voices the fear that this could be their fate. I wanted to let them know that sometimes, it really isn’t all that bad, even when the mammogram is positive, but I remained quiet, focusing on my knitting.
For me, nearly immediately upon sitting after changing out of my top clothes, my escort came to take me back for the actual booby squishing. She performed her duties, creating the ethereal, opaque half moons from my breasts. I find it intriguing that mammogram photos are so moon-like when the moon has long been considered the planetary body for women.
I had a mammogram a year ago. At that time, Isabel was about three months old. When the plastic plate slid into place on the top of my right breast, milk squirted out in about five different directions. I loved that. It seems so appropriate that my gland was doing what it was supposed to while taking the photos. Today, my breast was emptier, Isabel having just supped shortly prior to my appointment. No milk came out at all. When no milk flowed, I realized I actually had hoped that it would.
After the photo-taking, my mammogram technician escorted me back to the waiting area. I gathered up my knitting, grabbed a cup of tea, and waited. And waited some more. During this time, a dozen women came through in the same pattern. The escort brought them in, showed them their dressing room, they sat for a moment ensconced in their pond-green dressing gown, then were called away, only to return shortly to wait and wait. In the meantime, some who had been there were called into their dressing room for a “private discussion.” I say private in quotes because we could all hear what was being said, that the films were clear and we will see you next year.
I expected this, that my films would be clear. Then I thought for a moment, what if they’re not? What if they call me back to squish me some more? I imagined me telling them that I knew something was up because this is what happened last time: they called me back for more and more and more, flattening and pressing and prodding my flesh. I imagined that if this were the case then 2011 would begin as awfully as so many of the last years have, and I wondered if this is how life would always be, and then I realized I was going a little off the loony end and returned back to the spa room with it’s trickling music, low light, and women in green gowns.
And no, they did not take me back for more squishing. My escort called my name, called me to my dressing room, and let me know the films were fine and they would see me next year. All was well.
I liked this place, this woman spa space for boob squishing. I could have sat there and knitted all day. As I waited with the other women, the only thing missing was some womanly conversation. If that had been present, the illusion would have been complete. As it was, this missing piece kept it from being all it could have been, but still it was all right. Let some grocery corporation pay to keep us from contemplating why it is exactly we’re hanging out with strangers and squishing our boobs in a modern day female communal space, creating moons and attempting to avert disaster. Whatever works, right?