The Girl Who Didn’t Want a Mammogram

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Greeting card by Ali Tao

There are certain things women do every year, like it or not. We pay taxes. We get the car inspected. I did that this week. We lay on a table and try to breathe calmly as the doctor sticks a cold speculum inside us. We strip down for a skin cancer screen and breathe a sigh of relief when the doctor says “No problems. See you in a year.” But my least favorite is the annual mammogram. This year I had the skin cancer screen and the mammogram in the same week I had the car inspected. Trifecta!

New shipment of pillow covers from Turkey

Just before the Dermatologist appointment, I had read an article in one of the New York Times Magazines saved for me by my friend Trish McIsaac. This article was titled something like,”Finding something on your face that you didn’t anticipate.” I was compelled to read the article because there are so many things I find on my face that I do not want or anticipate: wrinkles, pimples, unidentified splotches, nasty smirks, and blackheads to name a few. I was hooked when the article reported that the man who found that unexpected thing on his face lived outside Asheville, North Carolina. I started imagining ticks, a colony of chiggers, or a leech hanging off his cheek. It seems that the thing that concerned him was a roundish pink spot on his cheek near his ear. It didn’t itch or hurt, he reported, but it was about the size of a quarter, it worried him, and he went to his primary care doctor to get him to take a look at it. His doctor had no idea what it was, but told him not to worry about it, as it definitely wasn’t cancer. He was relieved at first, but the pink spot was still there. The spot did not change size, but he continued to worry about it, nevertheless, so he made an appointment with an Asheville dermatologist: Mark Hutchins, who happens to be my dermatologist (and who has the best reading materials in Asheville in his waiting room.)

Pottery by Chloe Hamilton

In addition to making sure patients have something to read besides Golf Digest or 1996 Time Magazines while they wait, he is a smart guy and a good doctor. (He told me that he has to keep an eye on the reading material in the waiting room, because sometimes patients, wanting to be nice, bring him old magazines to add to his selection. He does not want their ancient USA Todays cluttering up his waiting room.)

New jewelry from Merging Metals

Dr. Hutchins took one look at the pink spot and knew just what it was, although neither he nor the patient had any idea where it had originated. The patient had Hansen’s Disease. In other words, he had Leprosy. The patient was sent to a treatment center for Leprosy in Louisiana and made a complete recovery. I hate to think about what might have happened if he had listened to his primary care doctor and ignored it.

In addition to making sure patients have something to read besides Golf Digest or 1996 Time Magazines while they wait, he is a smart guy and a good doctor. (He told me that he has to keep an eye on the reading material in the waiting room, because sometimes patients, wanting to be nice, bring him old magazines to add to his selection. He does not want their ancient USA Todays cluttering up his waiting room.)

Dr. Hutchins took one look at the pink spot and knew just what it was, although neither he nor the patient had any idea where it had originated. The patient had Hansen’s Disease. In other words, he had Leprosy. The patient was sent to a treatment center for Leprosy in Louisiana and made a complete recovery. I hate to think about what might have happened if he had listened to his primary care doctor and ignored it.

It reminded me of the time when my father, who wasn’t a doctor, but ran a clinic and pretended to be one, took a look at a thing that appeared to be growing on my sister’s scalp when she was about five. “It’s just a little polyp,” he told her. Then he told my mother to make an appointment at a dermatologist’s office to have it removed. The next available appointment was weeks away, but Harry told my nervous mother that it wasn’t anything to worry about. Over the course of the next few weeks my sister said that the polyp tickled and seemed to move around. Harry dismissed this claim with scorn and told her to leave everything to the doctor. Finally, my mother took Meri to the doctor’s office. He used pair of tweezers and removed a fat tick, big as a grape, from Meri’s scalp. It had been feasting on her blood all that time. It was truly disgusting, and it still makes me sick to think about it.


Ceramic Masks

“Honest mistake,” was Harry’s reaction. There was nothing honest about Harry, but at least Meri didn’t develop Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  

I approach the mammogram with fear. It’s no fun at all. The breast technicians grab your breasts and position them roughly one at a time between cold metal plates. Then they turn a crank and compress each breast into a narrow flat pancake. They instruct you not to move, as if you could, and go behind a screen while the x-ray machine slowly click, click, clicks around taking pictures from every angle.  Finally the machine releases you, and you can breathe again, but it’s time for the other side. You wait after both sides are x-rayed to be sure the x-rays turned out all right, and you pray that you don’t have to repeat the process. 

Every year I tell the tech that if men had to have such a procedure, doctors would have invented a way to make it painless by now. This year, though, I was in for a surprise. “Occasionally men get breast cancer, and we have to do this same procedure on them,” she explained. 

Really? I thought about men’s breasts and tried to picture the techs grabbing skin and jamming it between the plates. Yikes! That would be horrible, I thought. “How can you get enough flesh from a man’s chest to take the x-ray?” I asked.

“Well,” she went on, “just today I had to do two men’s mammograms.”

“Wasn’t it difficult?” I asked.

“Naw,” she responded. “They both had floppy titties.”

“Oh…” I said. I guess floppy titties is the technical term.