The Beginning of a Journey

I’m going to come right out and say it.

I hate my breasts.

I don’t mean I hate the way they look and wish they were different.  I mean I hate having them at all.

I was the ultimate tomboy growing up.  I played with other boys. I played with “boy” toys (no Barbie for me, Star Wars and He-Man, please). Slightly older, I even got in fist fights with boys (always self defense).  And every summer until the fateful day when my incredibly indulgent parents reluctantly put their feet down, I would roam the neighborhood shirtless and utterly carefree.

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Baby Tomboy

The summer that stopped was the real death of my childhood.

From then on, these things started growing.  I didn’t mind terribly much through puberty, but of course they don’t get perkier with age. Quite the opposite.  Now they’re big saggy useless ugly bags of fat hanging there, ruining the way clothes fit me (weight loss doesn’t help.  I lost 60 pounds before surgery and dropped two whole shirt sizes, everywhere but my boobs. Unfair? I think so). And if you think performing anything but the most sedate, least jarring, least bouncy, least effective exercise with these monsters slapping around (in anything less than the most punishing medieval torture device bra money can buy) is in any way enjoyable, think again.  And in my head I’m still every inch a tomboy. Imagine the hell.

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Note: Not me. I’m sure it’s photoshopped, but this is what mine feel like to me most days

My grandmother died of the cancer so I’ve been getting mammograms religiously for maybe five years now.  More torture; gentlemen, imagine a very tender part of your body smushed in a vice grip the size of a pancake griddle and then crushed within an inch of its life for ten seconds.  Then do it again, this time at an angle so it feels like said part is being ripped off its moorings.  Now come back and do it all again every year!

This time they said I needed an MRI due to dense tissue.  Foolish me thought it had to be easier, it’s just an imaging scan.  Wrong again!

First they need to place an IV line.  I’m not a fan.  I can handle needles, just not stuck in me for longer than a few seconds.  My tech was nice enough, but a bit frazzled by the previous appointment, a developmentally delayed woman who was late and who had now set back her entire day as a result (she felt the need to explain because I was in the waiting room forty-five minutes). I was laid-back and reassuring, but she could not find my veins.  She stuck me three times before succeeding (and as I write this two weeks later, the final site is still bruised).  I gritted my teeth and smiled.

Then onto the machine.  I had to lie face down with a massage table donut for my face, and that’s where the attempts at comfort ended.  My boobs dangled down into two wells separated by a hard plastic ridge, where my sternum supported most of my weight.  Imagine lying faceplanted on a ship rudder.  I have no idea why it can’t be made out of something more forgiving, and sure enough the next day I had deep soreness.

(The only advice I had been given before arriving was “If you want to wear pants, make sure they have no zippers or metal.” Well yes, I’ve grown quite fond of wearing pants (in public).  Looking back, the only thing that would be more humiliating than that position would be doing it pantsless.)

She asked me what kind of music I liked.  I didn’t know how to answer, so I said instrumental and relaxing.  “Okay, so oldies?”  I don’t know what her idea of “oldies” was but I pictured sock hop 50’s. How old do you think I am, lady?  I specified classical.  Fine.

But then she thrust ear plugs into my ears.  I suppose they’re necessary, the machine is very loud, but a) I can’t stand having things inside my ears.  I can’t even stand the head rapey design that all the earbuds favor these days, and b) they rather defeated the purpose of having music playing as everything (including her occasional instructions and questions) was so muffled as to be undiscernible. But I didn’t know this, so over the earplugs went big clamshell headphones.  I felt like my head was sealed in bubble wrap.

Then the scan begins.  Whenever the IV contrast starts pumping you get a weird metallic taste in your mouth.  The machine makes this unholy clanging racket, even with earplugs.  And you absolutely aren’t allowed to move.

Which includes breathing.  I was told to take slow deep breaths, which isn’t easy in that position.  Instead I started taking small shallow breaths, worried that anything deeper would result in too much movement.  Before I knew it, I wasn’t getting enough air but compensating would have required big disruptive gasping breaths.  Who can hear music when you’re focused so singlemindedly on breathing?

The only good thing is it lasts twenty minutes (I had read forty-five online).  About three-quarters through I suddenly felt the need to sneeze.  Panic gripped me.  Would we have to start all over again? Oh god, yep, definitely needed to sneeze. I broke out in a sweat and tried to think of anything else.  Like the music that sounded like it was filtering up from two floors away.

Just then she paused to check on me.  I told her my deal.  She said it was fine and waited.  Turns out it was all in my head.  Stupid head.

A few minutes later and it was over. As she relieved me of my IV, she said cheerily, “Okay, see you next year!” I was blindsided by the news that this was to be my new routine (in addition to continued mammograms, and maybe even ultrasounds. My boobs were going to keep this place open all by themselves with an endless parade of diagnostics).  I made it to my car.  I even made it through a quick stop at Target.  Then somewhere on the way home, the tears started and they wouldn’t stop.

I was completely gutted. So much time, discomfort and expense to protect these things I don’t want, that I’ve NEVER wanted.  It was like having two massive benign tumors that could turn cancerous any time, but I wasn’t allowed to have them removed because society has decided that they’re valuable (and, let’s be honest, far too often they’re the ONLY measure of some women’s value).  They aren’t valuable to me, just an enormous nuisance that I’m growing to hate the very sight of more every year.

And someday they might even kill me.

It does take the edge off of opening lab results when part of you hopes they come back positive.

My sister talked me off the ledge when I insisted I wanted a prophylactic mastectomy that very afternoon.  She convinced me it was major surgery that took months to recover from.  She gave me some tiny hope when she asked why I was considered high risk when my grandmother wasn’t diagnosed until her 70’s and the rest of my immediate family was clear.  I called the tech back with this update, but she insisted it didn’t change anything.  “You don’t have to pay for it so don’t worry about it!” she reassured me.  No.  That’s not the point.  As my good friend put it, free torture is still torture.

This was how I began tentatively thinking about researching the possibility of finally getting rid of my breasts.

To Be Continued…

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4 thoughts on “The Beginning of a Journey

  1. i knew it was obviously a bad experience, but I hadn’t realized just how bad. It sounds like the people at the imaging center aren’t very sensitive. You never know what someone’s story is and a health-care worker should be more sensitive no matter how busy they are.
    (This is about 5 min long but so aptly expresses what I’m talking about: “if we could see inside others hearts” for Cleveland clinic;
    http://youtu.be/Wl2_knlv_xw )

    Stupid boobs. I hope you are feeling a little better now.

    • You know, it was unpleasant but not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. But the thought of having this endless patten of testing stretching out in front of me just killed something inside of me.

      I shouldn’t have watched that video. I’ve been way too emotional since this started. Usually the mammogram people are great, this was the first bad experience I had (goes to show, bad experiences can have more of an impact than good ones).

      I feel much better now knowing I have options. Stay tuned! 🙂

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