Mammogram: ‘It can save my life’

Mammogram: ‘It can save my life’

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Mammogram: ‘It can save my life’

By Susie Ouderkirk

The Las Cruces Bulletin

I got a mammogram – my first ever.

I should have done it sooner, I know. A mammogram can save my life. I believe in the procedure in theory, but I won’t lie – I was dreading it.

However, Anita Rockett, the marketing director for Memorial Medical Center, suggested I take one for the team and have it done as part of an article which might encourage other Las Cruces women to do the same. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month and the “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” campaign, I agreed. You gotta’ save the boobies!

So I packed up my notebook and pen on Oct. 12 and went in to the MMC Healthplex, 2735 Northrise Drive, for my first mammogram. As I waited for my turn, I kept hearing Rockett’s voice in my head: “It doesn’t hurt. It’s squishy, but not painful.” I’m pretty sure “squishy” is the professionally-accepted medical term used by doctors.

When I arrived at the Healthplex, the first thing I noticed was a huge poster on a tripod that stated, “A Mammogram Experience Designed by Women for Women” with pictures of happy, smiling models. I was vaguely reminded of similar posters at the entrance to Disneyland advertising the newest attractions. I hoped this mammogram wasn’t anything like the Haunted Mansion ride at the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

The atmosphere in the Healthplex lobby was quiet, with a decided lack of urgency. I filled out some very brief forms and then met up with hospital marketing specialist and photographer – at least on that day – Jamie Aranda.

Jamie and I were led back into a comfortable waiting room with a sign that read, “No Gentlemen in the Waiting Room,” where I was advised to change out of my shirt and bra and wriggle into a white terrycloth poncho that snapped up the front. It didn’t conceal anything, but, as there were no boys allowed, I just stuck out my chest and made my entrance.

We were then introduced to Christina, who identified herself as a “mammographer.” Her dress was casual, her demeanor warm and assured – all good things in a place that caters to nervous women who don’t want to be there.

Christina led us to a small exam room with a large, white machine in the center. I can’t come up with anything that resembles the machine except perhaps a futuristic gas pump. Christina then asked if I had breast implants or nipple rings. Alas, I do not (my father will be relieved to read that). All the while, Jamie was trying to be surreptitious while taking pictures with her phone. Believe it or not, it was more comfortable to have her in the room; misery loves company, or something like that.

I couldn’t tell at first just where my breasts were supposed to go in the big white futuristic gas pump. But Christina knew and she wasn’t shy about turning me toward the machine, flipping up the poncho, reaching out, taking hold and positioning my right breast on a tray. “I think I’ve seen every breast in town,” she said, laughing.

She decided I needed some stickers in strategic places to help the machine see where everything is located. She presented me with two tiny pasties adorned with two tiny BBs. Yes, BBs. Like in a BB gun, only smaller.

Christina pressed a button and a platform descended over my breast and flattened it. There was pressure and a little pain, a four on a scale of 1 to 10. For readers who have gone through childbirth, dial this down to a 1. It’s nothing compared to contractions, or even banging your shin, or having an impacted wisdom tooth.

We (my breast and I) had to stay in that position for a mere eight or 10 seconds and the discomfort faded immediately when the platform was raised. It hadn’t been painful enough for me to make a noise, or even stop talking.

Christina repeated the process with the other breast, rotated the machine 45 degrees, took two more pictures, righted the platform again and took two more. It wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t torture – certainly not worse than a Pap smear or a rectal exam. Christina said the test feels different for every woman; some experience more discomfort than others.

I had a chance to view the scans on a computer screen, which looked like blue and white abstract watercolor. Christina was not allowed to give me any feedback on the results, but she described what I was seeing, which was fibrous breast tissue and some muscle. She explained the scan would be read by a physician and I would be contacted about the results within 48 hours. She thanked me for my time, handed me a bag of free goodies, and Jamie and I left the way we came (I did stop to re-dress, of course).

Getting a mammogram is not a thing of joy, but with a positive attitude it can be a neutral experience: not good, not bad. It was fast – the positioning of me and the machine, and the six scans took less than 15 minutes. And I made two new friends (dare I call them “bosom buddies?” “Breast friends forever?”): one who has been-there, done-that in the world of mammography, and one who is too young to have to partake but now knows how the procedure works.

I figure if one woman reads this and makes the decision to have a mammogram this month, then my experience was worth it. And Memorial Medical Center is making it easy during October – in conjunction with the “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” campaign, MMC is offering mammograms on Saturdays (with alcohol- free “mammosas” as a reward) and 100 free scans for women who don’t have insurance (certain qualifications apply).

Marketing Director Anita Rockett reminded me that most women who are insured are covered in full, so check with the insurance company. If uninsured, women can call the appointment number at 521-5270 for information on free exams. Appointments can be made in English or Spanish.

Susie Ouderkirk may be

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