Before and after.
If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, I have my requisite diagnostic mammogram in exactly 1 hour, 18 minutes and 43 seconds. Not that I’m anxious or anything. Oh, no. Just trying to waste some time before I have to run out to the car and go. There’s a certain exit off Interstate 95 that will always makes me nauseous now, but I can practically drive it on autopilot, so I’ll be fine. Well, sort of. And the hospital has valet parking for patients. No fools they. Otherwise, they’d spend all their time helping distraught, miserable people fill out auto accident reports before their appointments and try to remember where they parked after them.
Makes me pine for the good ol’ days, the Before Cancer days, when I only had to get screening mammograms. And they were always negative. Well, except for that last one. Now, I’m in the After Cancer days, and I don’t get mere screening mammograms. Now, I pass go, do not collect $200 (did the Monopoly people raise that figure to reflect inflation, I wonder?), and go straight to having a diagnostic mammogram. They take more exact pictures with diagnostic mammograms. Because, you know, they’re trying to diagnose stuff. So they require more exact squishing, which means it’s a little more painful than usual, especially on the right where they are squishing the pitiful scrap of tissue that was once my right breast. I always used to wonder whether mammograms were more unpleasant if you had large breasts or teeny ones. Now, I have my own side by side comparison.
Oops, gotta go…back later. Maybe I’ll puke now and get it over with.
Okay, I’m back. Well, I didn’t puke, but I felt pretty faint on the way up there, and kinda nauseous after. To get back to the reason why I am writing this post, since mammograms are no longer the innocent events they once were, no longer just another thing to be done around my annual physical to make me feel conscientious and proactive, I find that I need to strategize before and after them to keep myself from going insane with anxiety. So, I thought I’d put together something like a Top Ten List of Ways to Distract Yourself from the Big Squish. I’m including things that I’ve actually done, that I did in the days and hours leading up to this one, as well as things I’ve done now that’s it’s over and I am trying not to obsess about the possible results. Some of these are things you can do before or after — like writing a blog post, for instance. Feel free to add your own suggestions.
Top Ten Things to Do Before.
1. First of all, try to laugh. Laughing directly at the whole experience is preferable, but not essential. You can watch your favorite comic movie, for instance, or hang out with a handy and amenable child, the younger the better, and see how many knock-knock jokes you can come up with. Utter silliness is very distracting.
2. Read a good book. Nothing too high-flown. You probably don’t want to start War and Peace, for example. Although, Pride and Prejudice would be good. Especially if you’ve only seen the film adaptations and have never read the actual novel. Jane Austin is quite humorous in P&P. Plus there are all sorts of adventures and drama and lovely language in which to immerse yourself. I’ve been reading an English writer of mysteries lately. Intrigue is very distracting. Plus, she includes splendidly snarky dialogue like this: “He’s about as useful as a catflap on a submarine.” She didn’t originate the phrase, mind you, but she’s not shy about using a good colloquialism now and then.
3. Switch handbags. I actually did this before my mamm. I hadn’t finished by the time I had to leave, so I brought both bags with me. That way, I had something relatively mindless but constructive to do in the waiting room. Because, you know, you’re in the Diagnostic Imaging department, which is in the basement, so you don’t get cellphone reception.
4. Well, then of course, there was buying the new handbag in the first place. I bought the new bag — purple — a few days ago, during a modest feast of pre-mammogram retail therapy. On sale!
5. Get some exercise. This can be problematic if you are cursed with fatigue or have joint pain from anti-estrogen therapy or have a sore shoulder from where they fried you with radiation. Plus, the timing is very important. You don’t want to be completely exhausted beforehand, unless maybe you can get someone else to drive you there. You also don’t want to have more aches and pains than you usually do, because you’re probably going to be sore after. So, this is not the time to start training for your first triathalon. Unless maybe you can get a good hit of endorphins going.
6. Take some Advil — or your preferred pain reliever. Well, this isn’t really a distraction, just a good idea. I took some. Thank goodness.
7. Update your iPod library.
8. Catch up with everyone on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or whatever. Social media is (are?) very useful for disposing of several hours of your time that you might otherwise waste by obsessing about your upcoming mammogram. Plus you get to vent about your upcoming mammogram.
9. Clean the cat litter boxes. Disgusting, yes, but really distracting. You must focus to perform this task effectively. Focus is good. Dropping clumps of pee-soaked litter on the floor is not. Plus you get to feel smug and virtuous afterward.
10. Pay very close attention to your driving. Not only is this distracting, but it’s crucial if you are driving yourself to your squish appointment. Since you’re already distracted by having to go get squished, you really need to keep your mind on the road. You can play some tunes while driving, but only if they enhance your driving skills by keeping you alert. Be very careful about tuning in to NPR though. You could end up listening to a talk show discussion about the economy that could send your blood pressure through the roof. You may not want to go get squished in the first place, but you do want to get there is one piece.
Top Ten Things to Do After.
1. Two words: retail therapy.
2. Pointless musing. For instance, who makes these goofy little stick-on markers that the mammographer used to decorate me before the squishing? You know, those doodads that help the radiologist figure out what she’s looking at? I am unashamed to admit that I actually looked them up online. And there is a company called Beekley which makes these nipple dots and scar markers and other doodads for mammograms, breast biopsies, and radiation therapy, among other things. These are the folks who made those little sticky-bandage-covered ColdSPOT cold packs that I got after my first and only stereotactic biopsy. Well, somebody has to make them, I guess. You definitely don’t want to have to get decorated with an Altus marker — which are circles marked with little raised squares that signify ‘areas of concern or focal pain that are not physically manifested,’ or with A-SPOTS, which are ‘perfect for marking palpable masses.’ Although it might be nice to have had a Bella Blanket, which is a protective coverlet ‘for mammography […] designed to remove the chill from the bucky / receptor plate, helping patients to feel more at ease and drastically minimizing the complaints that the bucky is cold.’ Bucky??
3. Decorate a hat. Preferably a period hat, from the 19th or early 20th century, when they were often as big as tea trays and were decorated with lots of ribbons, flowers and feathers. I did really do this after I got home. Purchasing the ingredients comprised part of my post-squish retail therapy. Kind of like a girl scout project, which required a lot of test modeling and fooling around with my hair. Even better in a group, I would imagine. I’ll have to organize one for next time.
4. Mow the lawn.
5. Change the batteries in the smoke detector.
6. Apply for that home equity line of credit that my bank has been offering me ever since I refinanced my mortgage at 3.75%. Not that I’m planning to use it. But you never know. Maybe I could finally take that trip to Australia and New Zealand.
7. Bitch about the squishing on Facebook. Very satisfying, especially if you have lots of After Cancer friends who know exactly what you’re talking about. Here’s the thing with this. Where I get my squishings these days, when the mammographer on duty sees my chart and its salient mention of breast cancer, she comes out to get me right away and lets me cut the line, as it were. The Before Cancer crowd, who are awaiting their mere screening mammograms, get to wait. The mammographer I had this time was very nice, and she had pretty good squishing technique, but she still managed to try, initially, to detach the remnants of my beleaguered right breast from its no-more-padding, skin-only attachment to my sternum. This was very painful. I could feel the bruise that was going to appear later. I did remark on this, as I broke out in a cold sweat, so she readjusted me between the paddle and the “bucky” (bucky??) to a more tolerable position. But the damage was done. And I didn’t get a Beekley ColdSPOT either.
8. Bitch about waiting for your results. See #7. After I was squished, I and my bruised half-breast and my sore but not bruised other breast and my large cotton knit gown (they do have very cozy gowns there, I’ll give them that) were consigned to wait in the dressing room area while the mammographer showed my pix to the radiologist. They do this to make sure they got good images and also to let you know right away if there’s anything glaringly suspicious on them. Which is very compassionate of them. Because we all hate the suspense of waiting to know. But twice now, I’ve been told that everything “looks clear,” or words to that effect, only to find out days later, when the full report was available, that the radiologist found something hinky and I needed more images. So, yes, it was nice to be told this time that I didn’t need more images just now and that “everything looks good,” but I took this with about a pound of salt. I will not relax until I read the report with my own eyes. Which may not be until I see my breast surgeon next week. Which means I’ll have to repeat my distraction strategies all over again.
9. Eat chocolate.
10. Take photos of some of your distractions, post them on Facebook and write a blog about the whole thing.
See how well my strategy works? Not only do I now have an Edwardian chapeau, but you’d never know I had the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head, would you??
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