Some might not find it funny to make light of mammograms, because breast cancer is the second most common cancer in American women. But Mary Kay Jordan Fleming is a professor of psychology at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati and if she can make jokes during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it must be okay! No, cancer isn’t the least bit funny, she says, but the way she just got screened really was.

In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I had my annual mammogram today. Every Woman-of-a-Certain-Age looks forward to the big squeeze, but today’s procedure featured an element of surprise: 3-D mammography.

The technician explained the salient features: 3-D costs $60 more, insurance might not pay for it, and “you’ll have to hold your breath a lot.” Where do I sign up? It’s not every day that I can pay extra to pass out from a standing position.

The process started as usual— I locked up my belongings and my modesty in a small cabinet, and cinched myself into a short hospital gown that opened in the front. I was directed to use a disposable wipe to remove any deodorant or powder that would interfere with image quality.

In the exam room, the technician, Amy, asked me to verify my name and birthdate, presumably because rogue women have broken into these facilities in the past to spend extra time with their most delicate body parts in a vise clamp.

The fun started when Amy gathered up every molecule of breast tissue plus anything else she could grab from my chest wall, neck, armpit, and upper arm flab. If only she could have yanked it up from that mid-body roll of fat we call our muffin top, and not returned it, I would have left her a handsome tip. But, alas, she wasn’t up to the heft.

Next, Amy used a foot pedal to compress the breast beyond my wildest imaginings. Just when I thought one of my girls might explode, she let up, only to bear down on a manual crank for extra flattening. Stepping away for picture-taking, Amy offered a stern, “Don’t move.” It’s hard to figure what prompted the need for this directive but perhaps those con women who broke in and tried to fraudulently get my mammogram were known to rip the machine out of the floor and sprint away with the whole contraption.

As promised, the 3-D procedure involved holding my breath for extra-long intervals. These always came without warning and immediately after I’d exhaled, which prompted real worries about fainting. I fought hard against this impulse because the inevitable amputation would have left a nasty scar.

Professor Mary Kay Fleming.

After a few more dizzying moments without oxygen, the whole show was over and I was dismissed to gather my belongings and change clothes. As a parting shot, Amy offered me another disposable deodorant wipe.

Am I the only person who finds the idea of 3-D breast imaging somewhat amusing? Conventional mammography takes a three-dimensional body part and steamrolls it into a plane. Are the inventors of 3-D technology pulling our legs (we wish!) by inventing something that visualizes the compressed two-dimensional breast back into its original three dimensions? I’m sure some savvy engineer could invent a machine to just look down my shirt.

Nevertheless, breast cancer is the second most common cancer among U.S. women and mammography is the gold standard for detection. So despite the discomfort, get your annual squeeze, ladies, and don’t forget to inhale!


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