Where I come from we didn’t do regular mammograms. We went to doctors when we got sick – same with dentists. The daily preservation of health, the consciousness of a life in our nineties when we would be zipping around in full control of our facilities and our various moving parts, these did not dominate the national conversation. I knew of one friend of my mother’s who was around forty years of age who had breast cancer; I only knew this because my mother used to give this lady’s daughter extra lessons in English literature, and very often the two of them used to be dressed all in white. “She does bodhi pooja,” my mother explained, conjuring up the familiar image of clay pots of water carried around and spilled over the roots of an ancient Bo tree that centers each temple, of incense and flowers and hours spent sitting on the soft sand that make up the “floor” of a temple, uttering prayers.
I signed up for a mammogram early in my American life and then let it slide. I’d show up and there’d be too many people there. I didn’t want to bother my neighbors to watch my babies for any longer than necessary, so I’d give up and go home. Then we moved from Maine to the Main Line in Philadelphia and I was too busy to schedule mammograms. Until someone said you had better. And then I had more of them. And biopsies. And surgery. And more mammograms.
Women complain about the procedure. It is weird and uncomfortable. Pain, though, is relative. It hurts to have a metal pin inserted into ones breast without anaesthesia, the helpful marker for the surgeon waiting for you in another room. A mammogram, by comparison, becomes a whatevs. Still, three and a half years later, the pain that made me cry out like a child has receded. I gasp over the discomfort of the mammogram, the clinical disinterest of the technician administering it. I have to remind her that the ribs underneath, compromised by the radiation, have cracked before. She nods, but is unrelenting – I swear she pulsed the plexiglass an extra time, pinning my body in its vice harder than necessary. I probably imagined it, but it feels good to have a tangible enemy, she in her pink gown and pristine room who asks what I do for a living and tunes out the moment I say I am a writer.
Outside, in the waiting room, I let my usual irritation with noise take over. I turn off the ever-blaring TV spouting recipes for Thanksgiving menues. I wait and I wait for someone to tell me that there is nothing wrong. And I am reminded of the Millenium Bra from Victoria’s Secret, billed as the ultimate fantasy gift, studded with 2,000 diamonds and sapphires in platinum star settings. I wonder about Heidi Kluhm. Whether she has mammograms. I think about the strapless number I once purchased from Victoria’s Secret, an item so overly enhanced that it added poundage to my frame, an item that made me feel as though I was heaving around a piece of furniture balanced upon my chest. It rests now among other lingerie, unwieldly, not something to be folded neatly and placed discreetly among her brethren but, rather, a monstrosiy that seems to move of its own volition.
The technician arrives to tell me I am free for another six months. Victoria’s Secret. Such an anchronism in a world such as this and under such circumstances.