I’m honoured to have been invited to MC an upcoming celebration lunch for Breastscreen ACT. The ACT-Government service is celebrating 21 years of free breast screening in Canberra (which would translate into many, many lives saved).
The guest speaker, communications specialist Niree Creed, is a survivor of breast cancer. She’s also a very funny woman. At the planning meeting today, the organising committee asked if I had any funny stories to swap as MC, on the topic of mammograms and so forth.
I didn’t. I’d never had one. But I want to be a really good MC. So I said, ‘Can I have one?’ and they gave me one on the spot.
It’s not that they hand out mammograms like lollies, although actually they do—for free—targeting those aged between 50-75, but also if you’re aged 40 or over, which I am, just. Normally you’d phone the lovely staff who I met today to book in, but as I was there, and ‘eager’, and they had a space available, I was up to the plate next (so to speak!)
The mammographer, Margaret, was so immensely comforting in her approach that by the time I took my top off, I was almost as relaxed as I had been the last time I stripped off in front of a stranger—on my 40th birthday get-away with the BFFs, walking into a Daylesford day spa for a hot-rock massage.
She explained exactly what was going to happen and told me I was in complete control of the process. She said I could tell her to stop at any time and she would, immediately.
I asked how long my boobs would be ‘pancaked’ (for want of a better description) and she said that depended how dense they were. Older ladies tend to be zipped through quickly by the camera due to lack of ‘substance’ to photograph. Younger women’s breasts can take a few seconds longer to capture on film because the tissue is more dense.
‘So, if it takes a little longer, that’s a compliment?’ I observed…
You have to understand that I’ve breastfed three babies and look like it. The last one refused to latch on. Ever. I spent weeks hooked up to a lactation machine and I suspect that it had irreversible aesthetic consequences. If I have to fish for compliments on my cleavage from a state-of-the-art, Swedish-manufactured x-ray machine, I will.
Whenever I’ve seen mammograms pictured in news stories or on Embarrassing Bodies, they seem so straight forward. You stand there. They squish your boob. They take a photo. Done.
It’s not like that at all!
“Okay,” Margaret said. “Just stand there. Now, take a small step to the right. Good. Put your arm up here. And the other hand around the back of the machine. Now, relax your left shoulder. Lovely. Stick your bottom out slightly. Perfect. Turn your head to the side. Look over at the opposite wall…’
It was like a glamour shoot. I haven’t felt so pampered in a long while. I started to wonder when my boobs might be invited into the picture.
‘That’s great!’ Margaret said. I felt like I had achieved the Miranda Kerr of the mammogram stance. ‘Now, can you, sort of, “flop” onto the platform.’
My left breast’s moment had come. It was time for the old workhorse to take centre stage, sans a chunk of its nipple, gnawed off by child #1 who back in 1999 was an early teether.
I flopped as best I could without destroying my perfect stance, and she expertly, gently and delicately assisted my boob into its best angle for the photograph. This involved some pretty impressive manoeuvring. A bit of ‘folding’. And, if I could just stick my bottom out a bit more … Perfect! Don’t move. Light breathing …
Now. For the squishy bit.
The sandwich-press descended gradually. At every stage, Margaret checked on my welfare. It pushed down further and flatter, like air-lock doors in a science-fiction movie. I could have extracted myself at any stage, with a single word… She wanted to take it to one more level of flatness if I could bear it—and, well, I’m not one to brag, but I could.
It was absolutely fine! Would I want to spend all day with one boob pressed between two plates, while going about my normal business? Probably not, but honestly the tourniquet for a blood test is worse. (Though, granted, I would not want to complete this exercise with symptoms of PMT.)
I usually watch during blood tests, fascinated. I didn’t look today. Body image is such a delicate thing. The sight of ones mammaries comprehensively sandwiched might do psychological damage.
We switched, next, to some shots on the diagonal. It sounds worse than it is. We stuffed not only my boobs but my armpits into these frames. You don’t question the photographer as a model—you just rise to the occasion and pull it off.
At every point, I kept thinking how amazing modern medical technology is. This could save my life. And, to think, I’d been procrastinating over the appointment because of ‘fear of the unknown’, worried about a few seconds of potential discomfort.
I exited the appointment—Xena, Warrior Princess. I came. I saw. I conquered. Oh, that’s Caesar. Another thing I conquered.
The point is, just do it, because—breast cancer.
Next challenge: I’ve never been an MC before. Any tips?
Curious about mammograms? Attend the Breastscreen ACT Open Day on Friday 9 May, 8am-12 noon, 1 Moore Street, Canberra City. All welcome. Morning tea provided. Your best protection is early detection.