Let’s talk about boobs, shall we?
Not the sexy type of boob talk though, the annual mammogram kind. The check your titties for cancer or abnormalities kind…
In late 2020 I had to go in for my yearly mammogram. These were the days when remote working was normal and the majority of us were still avoiding supermarkets or restaurants. While I had no issue wearing masks, (and to clarify, I still have no issue) I was unprepared for what wearing a mask while undergoing this exam would be like. Roughly a third of the way through I began to hyperventilate.
This was not normal for me. I was no stranger to the experience. I’d been getting annual mammos since I was twenty-five years old, and several years had me getting two or three… but suddenly one pandemic happened and I couldn’t manage to get through one without falling apart.
“It’s ok, it’s happening to everyone. We’ve actually had several women pass out.” the tech’s reassurance was sweet, but it still didn’t make any sense.
“Oh no,” I tried to smile as I explained, “It’s not the test exactly. This isn’t normal for me, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“It’s the mask.”
I stared at her. The mask? “Why?”
“It seems to be triggering a fight or flight panic response when women are holding their breath and locked into the x-ray machine unable to move. A panic attack is a pretty mild response honestly.”
And suddenly it made sense.
With my newfound wisdom and experience, I shared this information with everyone. Several women came back to me, grateful that I’d helped prepare them for “such a difficult experience.” and that made me happy. Admittedly a little less happy when the radiologist informed me they’d seen an abnormality and I’d have to come back.
Of course, they did…
That was over a year ago and the second one was shorter, and since I was more prepared, it went better.
Fast forward to Tuesday… Tuesday I went in for my annual mammogram again. This time I knew exactly what to expect. I was a pro at the masked mammo by this point. What I wasn’t prepared for was the volume of nerve and pain sensitivity my ME/CFS has elevated me to. Suddenly the mask was the least of my worries. Instead, I sobbed, vomited, and really had one heck of a patient tech get me through what was one of my most painful experiences to date.
The moral of the story is that sometimes we have to endure the awful stuff in a measure to take care of ourselves, I guess. But also, if they call me again and tell me I need to go back I may decline. My insurance doesn’t cover anything beyond the first anyhow, and I love myself enough to not want to go through that level of pain again for a very long time.
Being a woman really sucks sometimes… Being a woman with a chronic illness who relies on an industry that is hesitant to hold space for women and/or chronic illnesses, can feel isolating, lonely, and defeating.
Here’s to changing that, advocating for ourselves (and each other!), and having healthy breasts… The next time I fly can’t that TSA machine just check my boobs out???