I sit in the imaging center wondering, should I go through with this mammogram or not?
For years and years, women were advised by doctors, experts, the media, to get a yearly mammogram when they hit their forties. It has been ingrained into our psyches. We are told that breast cancer is the leading cause of death among American women between the ages of 44 and 55.
Happy 40th! Now make sure you get your mammogram. And if you get one before midnight, we'll include a mega dose of gut churning anxiety as you await the results, absolutely free of charge!
Mammograms catch cancer early, doctors and experts tell us over and over.
Mammograms cause cancer, other doctors and experts warn.
A mammogram is an x-ray. Like all x-rays, mammograms use ionizing radiation to create the image. This is harmful. This is carcinogenic. We're supposed to avoid things that cause cancer, right? But here I am in a drab grey room, waiting to get checked for cancer by a device that potentially causes it.
How ridiculous, I think. Why am I here? This doesn't make sense. Am I saving myself? Or risking my health?
I play the scenes out in my head. There are ten women in the waiting room with me. I've read that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. So that means that one of us sitting here trying to read Martha Stewart Living or Cooking Light will most likely be diagnosed with breast cancer. Maybe today. Could it be me?
If it is me, shouldn't I find out as soon as possible? Early detection is key, the voice in my head reminds me. Is it my voice or a voice to an endlessly looping ad campaign? I'd love nothing more than to run out of here and go home. But then I see my children's faces. If I didn't have kids, I wouldn't be here at all. My kids are the reason I go to the gym and take my vitamins and get yearly checkups and try not to do things that are bad for me.
I hear a voice, 'if only she'd gotten a mammogram, your mommy would be here today.'
Whose annoying voice is this? Is it the voice of my brainwashed conscience? I'm not sure of anything.
I don't trust the medical community. It operates like a big business. If most women over forty are getting yearly mammograms than mammography screening is enormously profitable. This reception area is proof. The chairs are all full of nervous women pretending to read old issues of magazines. People breeze in and out. We are all part of an assembly line of breasts.
As I turn another dog-eared page of a year-old issue of TIME, a voice calls "Irene? Irene Zutell?" As she pronounces it, it rhymes with "subtle," when it fact, it's pronounced "zoo-tell." Ah, that warm, personal touch of managed health care.
Are we all making a big mistake? Or a good decision?