Despite jokes, mammogram

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 22, 1999

is no laughing matter


Published Oct. 22, 1999

Email newsletter signup

A mammogram is no laughing matter, but my first time – just as the exam was "half" over – I asked the attendant to look at the floor to see if my breast was laying on my foot because "I only have one more."

She laughed, not because it was a new thought expressed, but because someone had said it out loud while the procedure was still underway. Usually patients have the good sense not to make gross jokes until the procedure is over, she said. Just her luck to get me that day.

My sixth mammogram was nothing like my first. A first mammogram is kind of like a training bra – it could be years before you see any progress.

My first mammogram, I was terrified because A, I have no tolerance for pain; and B, unlike a certain White House intern and a White House resident, baring parts of my body to strangers in small rooms is not my custom. I misunderstood the first doctor who recommended a mammogram; I thought he said man-o-gram, and that put me off right away.

As one who waits for her gynecologist to wear a mask or at least offer me one, I was not about to throw out my chest to some other man after this guy had just checked me for lumps. I mean really, how many times do we have to get up our nerve anyway?

Patiently the doc convinced me that I needed a "baseline" mammogram in order to make comparisons later on and that after 50 was already a little late to begin.

I countered that I started making comparisons in junior high when we started dressing out for gym, but I was willing to undergo one more humiliation in the interest of saving my life. That was seven years ago. The procedure hasn’t changed much, except I am no longer terrified.

Rosie O’Donnell says it’s like putting your boob in a squeeze box, but squeeze-box is not exactly right. It’s more like two steel plates that come together with your breast in the middle, but it really doesn’t hurt that much except for just a couple of moments.

It takes longer to shuck out of your clothes and figure where to put them than it does to have the exam.

I was really nervous that first time, so of course after I disrobed from the waist up, I had to find the little girls’ room. I went dragging my trailing sheet like a wedding train. The first bathroom was occupied, so I ducked into the hall to find another.

A few minutes of searching produced that fear borne in elementary school students who have been trying to get the teacher’s attention after they stayed at the water fountain too long.

Will I make it? My bladder was betting against me when I discovered what looked like a bathroom for the truly hurried and I rushed to complete the pause that refreshes. Just as I was looking for the flusher, a male attendant entered the room and asked if he could help me. I considered the question impertinent. What was he doing in there anyway?

I was rude and hastily beat a retreat, gathering my gown about me in my most haughty-Duchess manner. As my royal self stumbled into the hall, I realized the sign said, "Private," and I had been in the janitor’s clean-up closet. After that, a mammogram was going to be a piece of cake. The procedure doesn’t last but a moment or two and the attendants are very solicitous about your privacy, baring just one necessary part at a time, and laughing at all the bad jokes you make to cover your nervousness.

I can speak for my appendages only, but it hurt about as long as it takes me to remember what I went into the kitchen for. Or maybe not quite that long. Rosie O’Donnell and General Motors provided "I Got Squished" shirts to women getting mammograms last year, and I sent in my mammogram bill to prove I deserved a tee.

Tacky? No. Dying early is tacky. A mammogram will find breast cancer long before a lump can be detected on a physical exam. Not looking out for yourself is tacky. Not reminding those women you love to get checked is tacky. Baring your chest is cool. And it will make you feel good.

Every time I think of that first mammogram and the look on at the janitor’s face, I get the giggles. A mammogram could save your life. Now how bad can that be?

Fran Sharp is a former Messenger reporter now free lancing in Alabaster. Email her at