I had my first mammogram this morning, (a.k.a., the boob squish). It's definitely not a comfortable procedure, but not as bad as I expected. I held it together pretty well until the technician was done, and then I burst into tears. She wasn't surprised and said it's a common reaction. It's an emotional experience for a lot of women.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her mid-40s. I was about 11 years old. For some reason, my dad and I were with her, waiting in the lobby of the doctor's office, when she got the news. I have a vivid image of her as she strode hard and fast through the doorway from the exam room, looked at my dad and said, "Yep, it's cancer," and just kept walking straight out through the building to the car. She kept moving forward. She made the air move around her.
I saw such strength and energy in her in that moment, when what she was probably feeling was shock, fear and an instinct to flee. It doesn't matter, since what she demonstrated to me, her young daughter -- to keep moving forward -- has influenced my life ever since in a powerful and positive way.
I remember asking my oldest brother, who was 21 and in medical school, if she was going to die. He said, "I don't know" and hugged me while I sobbed. It registered that it was one of the first times I'd been given such honest news, delivered without candy coating. And for that, I thank my brother.
Our mom went through major surgeries and chemotherapy, and eventually she beat the cancer back. She lived another 15 years, long enough to see all five of her kids fall in love and get married and begin to have kids of their own. She was a true survivor.
Because we have a history of breast cancer on both sides of our family, getting a mammogram this morning felt like a step toward acknowledging my own mortality. In my mind, the girls -- and my sister's -- are like ticking time bombs. Very small ones, in my case, but dangerous nonetheless. And I hate that.