The Big Squish
My mammary glands’ memory of my mammogram
It was a cold November morning. I was working in my basement. I can’t recall specifically, but as we’re still in a pandemic state and since I’ve been working from home since March 2020, chances are I wasn’t wearing a bra - maybe a shelf bra, but definitely not a very supportive one. Not the best work practice, for sure, but it’s a habit I’ve fallen into. My on-line meetings and loose-fitting hoodies don’t exactly showcase my boobs, so the laziness in my fashion didn’t take long to adopt.
Likely because it was cold and the “girls” were sporting their “high beams”, the thought occurred to me - when was the last time I had a mammogram?
As it’s no secret, I’ll be 49 in July. I don’t deny my age; rather I embrace it. Do I wish I looked younger? Oh for sure! But here I am in all my glory (such as it is) and I’m just happy to be on this side of the dirt and along for the ride. I recognize that part of growing older means accepting certain limitations. But like power, it also means accepting responsibility. If I intend to be around for awhile, I’d better take care of myself. Plus if I’m not here, who will feed the dog, do the laundry or empty the dishwasher?
I don’t regularly do self breast exams. At my age though, it’s likely another good habit to adopt. As I’ve aged, I’ve become aware of the health issues that come with the process - and I’m no stranger to the experiences of some of the women I love.
That said, on that cold morning in November, I decided to make a call and book myself an appointment for a mammogram. I had no pressing issues and I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, so I wasn’t considered a priority. The earliest available appointment would be March 24, 2022 - 4 months away.
I snapped it up and entered the appointment in my phone calendar as a reminder - and then promptly forgot about it .
The day before my appointment, my phone reminded me: “mammogram tomorrow at 1pm - no deodorant, cream or powders”. Since I don’t get out very often, I was actually excited to be taking the afternoon off work.
I arrived at the hospital with 10 minutes to spare. I registered and reported to the appropriate station. I waited patiently in the waiting room for my name to be called. I glanced at the radiation warning on the wall and the breast screening pamphlets behind protective plexiglass. I had no lumps, bumps, discomfort or pain to speak of, but the longer I waited, the more my imagination played with my feelings. What if there was something there?
Before long, the radiology tech who introduced herself as Kelsey came out to meet me. She guided me to a change room and instructed me to remove any jewellery, metals and my clothing from the waist up and then to don a hospital gown. I did so in short time and was then escorted into the radiology room.
It was cold in there. Like glass-cutting nipple cold. I was grateful to have my jonny shirt as a layer between my thin skin and the frigid air. Then again, nerves may have played a part as well.
I apologized to Kelsey before the procedure began, telling her “sorry I’m not giving you much to work with”. To my surprise, she told me that less is often best, but that the more relaxed the patient can be, the better - regardless of cup size.
Now you may think that the process of having your boobs squished one at a time between two trays of cold metal and plastic might not be the most relaxing prospect. And you’d be right. However, for any of you who’ve ever had a baby in a public hospital where everybody including the janitor had a peek at your cooch, you recognize that comfort in a hospital setting is a relative thing.
So I did “try” to relax. Sure, it’s daunting. But like labour and delivery or even taking a test while you’re nervous, breathing is key. The more tense you are, the harder it’s going to go. So I breathed in and out as I stood there topless and vulnerable in front of my new best friend Kelsey and the cold machine that I’m just going to call Luke. Cool-hand Luke, as a matter of fact.
I’m not going to pretend I’m a scholar by using fancy terms so I’ll just say that each boob was squished twice - top to bottom and then sideways. And then… it was over. And it didn’t hurt. OK, maybe a little bit of a pinch. But not awful. It didn’t feel GREAT either, but it wasn’t painful.
Then I gathered my things, wondered if I should get Kelsey’s number and send her flowers, thought better of it, and then made my way back home.
Less than a week later, I had my results.
In fact, I also got a rating for my breast density - I’m in category C because my breasts are “heterogeneously dense”, which means that my particular boobs are made up of dense tissue - kinda like my skull, but better! Because brag alert: dense breasts are more common in younger women than older women on account of higher estrogen levels. So thank you to my “girls” for looking old but being full of young stuff!
On the down side, however, women with more breast density have a greater chance of developing breast cancer.
And that’s ok! Because now that I know, it’s something to be aware of and I can plan to keep an eye on things - and schedule regular mammograms.
Breast density aside, the biggest risk for developing breast cancer is being a woman. And that risk increases with age.
So make friends with your boobs, ladies. Take care of them.
And don’t be afraid of The Big Squish. It just may be a necessary evil - and as far as “evil” goes, it’s not that bad.
I promise. And that’s something coming from me because I am a first class wimp.
Knowledge, like age, is power. Harness that power and take charge of your health.
Your primary health care provider IS YOU.
For more information about booking your mammogram in Nova Scotia, please visit:
For more information about breast density, please read:
About the Creator
Ms. Carroll is a 40-something year-old veteran public servant and mother of three adult children. She and her partner Hal live in Amherst NS with a sweet, anxiety-ridden rescue dog. Shelley loves running, red wine, and laughter.
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