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Printed on October 1, 2019

A PERSONAL ACCOUNT

What a typical breast cancer screening screening is like

By B.A. Belthoff / The Bulletin

October is breast cancer awareness month. We will be reminded by billboards on the highways, pink ribbons in storefront windows, ads on the television and even by the pink that some pro teams incorporate into their uniforms for the month.

I recently made my voyage to have an annual screening mammogram.

I was given a royal blue cape. All superheroes need capes! Except maybe the Incredibles, when Edna Mode declared to Mr. Incredible regarding his newly designed outfit: No cape!

There were lockers along the wall where you could safely stow your belongings during the test. Each had a nameplate of a strong woman from recent history. Some of my choices included Wonder Woman, Helen Keller, Audrey Hepburn, Queen Latifah, and Maya Angelou.

I was going to choose Wonder Woman, feeling that since I already had the cape, the choice would be appropriate. Someone else had beat me to it, though. Instead, I chose Serena Williams. She’s a mom who is balancing work and family. Our similarities don’t stop there. She’s bold and expressive, fiercely competitive and has a killer backhand.

Yup, this is where my stuff belongs, I thought.

After sitting down and making pleasantries with the other women in the waiting room, I couldn’t help but wonder which locker they chose. How did they see themselves when not draped in blue? No one seemed overly anxious, so I made the presumption that we were all there for yearly screenings and not for an emergency.

Every technician I’ve encountered is very genuinely caring and knowledgeable. They appreciate that women can and do feel a little uncomfortable baring their breasts, even with us knowing every woman has them.

About one out of every eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Think about the women in your life: friends, family, neighbors, coworkers. I’m beating the statistics. The American Cancer Society tries to maintain a sense of positivity by claiming the one in eight statistic also means your chance of NOT developing the disease is 7 out of 8. It’s good to stay positive.

In New Jersey, the imaging clinic I routinely visited was owned by the OB-Gyn practice where I was a patient. Those doctors set up a mammography center and had an on-site radiologist who would read the films immediately after the screening.

They’d have images retaken, right then and there, to get clearer visuals if an area was in question. When you left the office, you knew if you were O.K. There was no waiting for two weeks for my doctor to deliver the results, like I was recently told. When you think there is something wrong, getting immediate answers is comforting, to say the least.

Several years before we moved, I felt something. From the moment I phoned the doctor’s office, it was as if they wiped their schedule clean to make room for me. It took longer to secure a safe place for my daughters to go after the school day ended than it did to get an appointment.

I was in their office that afternoon. After seeing the doctor, I went directly to the imaging center to have a sonogram and meet with the radiologist. Luckily, I was one of the seven.

There were visits when a nurse would enter the waiting area and apologize for the delay.

“We’ve had an emergency; we’re sorry for the wait. If you need to reschedule, please let us know.”
Those of us in the waiting room were like soldiers, trading our capes for infantry uniforms. No one minded. They had provided swift passage for me; now it was time to clear the path for this woman.

No one looks forward to these annual screenings. Getting smashed between two paddles isn’t the most comfortable experience. But it isn’t the most awful, either. Leaving with red marks from my lower neck to my underarms is a small inconvenience to endure in exchange for knowing that the test can save my life.

I walked out a short time later, sporting my red marks and ready to take on the challenges of the day – feeling like a superhero. If you’ve been putting off your screening, get it done.

Attack the issue like Serena Williams attacks the tennis ball. The smashing really isn’t that bad. You could celebrate by buying yourself a new cape.

(New-ish Texas resident B.A. Belthoff welcomes your comments. You can reach her at babelthoff@gmail.com.)