I just made my appointment for my bi-annual (o.k., tri-annual) mammogram. Er, maybe quattro-annual mammogram. I know that despite some research suggesting that annual screening may not save lives, the American Cancer Society still recommends a mammo every year or two for women older than 40. I do believe on paper in regular testing. Still, I had to kick myself to even schedule the appointment.
See, for any of you fellas reading this, here's how it goes: Some stranger kneads then sticks your breast into a big machine that squeezes that breast very, very tightly for an interminable number of seconds, while a few x-rays are taken. It's not just the fleshy part of the breast, either -- they really try to get half your rib cage and armpit in there as well. You're supposed to be holding your breath during the procedure, which is hard when you want to scream. You get to do that a few times before switching to the other boob.
If you're like me and have hard-to-diagnose dense, lumpy breasts, they'll almost always find a spot that looks fishy on the regular mammo and will send you into an ultrasound room after a few hours of waiting, where they will take dozens more boob photos ("The doctor would like just one more picture."), until the doctor finally comes in to look at your boob herself because she's pretty sure she sees something bad on the pix. By then, you are a quivering mass of fear and tears, trying to hold in your shit and murmuring rusty childhood prayers to the best of your recollection and vowing never again to eat red meat or have another cocktail.
Mind you, I've gotten off lucky so far. About one in eight American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, and she may be right there in the waiting room with you, perhaps getting tested to spot a recurrence. You can tell the unlucky ones by their anxious, wan faces, head scarf, and accompanying solicitous friend or family member. They are heartbreaking. And that could easily be you in a few months. Even if you make it through this hellish experience without a diagnosis, there's always next year! And it's all just part of our wonderfully complex existence as modern females, which we are expected to conduct with grace and competence.
The whole experience reminds me of lyrics to Elizabeth's Cook's marvelous song, "It Takes Balls to be a Woman,"
Sometimes It takes balls to be a woman
Standing up to a test, while wearing a party dress
Sometimes looks can be deceiving when you¹re quietly over-achieving
Oh, sometimes it takes balls to be a woman.