Barbie Perkins-Cooper, Author

Living Life in the Country As A Writer, Photographer

I suppose this is an article for women only; after all, I don’t think men would appreciate the subject matter. Here goes. Have you ever had a mammogram?

During the month of October, I scheduled my yearly mammogram. Since I do monthly breast exams, I wasn’t afraid. Nothing was different so I was confident that I would receive a letter telling me to return in a year. When the letter arrived, I was concerned. I needed an additional mammogram and/or ultrasound. I scheduled it immediately. Before the appointment, I got a call from the hospital informing me that I needed to bring $265.99 to pay for the additional test.

“What…I have Blue Cross Blue Shield. They pay for my mammogram.” Surprise — only 80% this time!

I almost cancelled the appointment. After contemplating the additional test, I phoned the Breast Cancer Center again, asking why I needed this appointment. “We can’t discuss that,” the voice on the other line said.

I was furious.

The more I thought of it, the more I realized I needed my Julia Sugarbaker diplomatic style to kick in. “Hello,” I said. “I have an appointment for an additional mammogram and was told no one could discuss it with me. Don’t I have the right to KNOW Why?”

“Of Course, you do,” the kind voice responded.

She transferred me to the radiology doctor where I discovered why. It seems that my yearly mammogram noticed a change…something in the glandular structure. I heard the word “asymmeticral,” or something similar.

“Have you lost or gained weight in the past year?”

“Yes…about 35 pounds. I’m doing Weight Watchers.”

“That could be the reason. It’s nothing to get alarmed about.”

Alarmed? Could we be talking a lump, or breast cancer?

The appointment was scheduled for the next Monday. I had exactly seven days to stress, worry while my imagination went crazy with fear.

I’ve always been told I have a nice chest.  For me, this compliment convinced me years ago that a woman’s chest is one of her most feminine assets. Perhaps some people can’t imagine stating that, but when it is one of the major compliments received, especially from my husband all types of fear entered my mind.

My maternal grandmother developed breast cancer — back in the days when cobalt was the treatment used after a brutal surgery. I had to change her dressings for her when she came home. Her chest was brutalized — like a raw piece of red beef. I was a teenager at the time and I’ve never forgotten how dreadful my grandmother looked. Never did I squint or show her my fears while I cleansed and dressed her wounds. Never did I forget how she looked. My grandmother was a grand lady, an inspirational, loving role model for me, showing me what a lady should always be, how a lady should act and dress. She influenced my life significantly!

What if that happened to me? How would my husband love me anymore IF I lost a breast?

I suppose every breast cancer survivor has felt that fear. I’ve known many women who have battled and won, but I’ve never discussed their fears, or dressed their wounds. I have been told that the incision is much better now, and there is plastic surgery that can be completed.  Before I went for the additional mammogram I researched breast cancer, reconstructive surgery and on and on. I do not recommend others to research. You must ask breast cancer survivors — those who have endured breast cancer. As a writer, I have the tools nearby to find the research. Sometimes a little knowledge can make one frightened out of their minds. Still, I could not pick up the phone to ask a friend. So many women do not want to talk about the experience, and I can certainly understand.

I told myself not to worry. Easier said than done, I assure you. Then, I took my maternal grandmother’s wise advice — I went to my window lifted my eyes up towards the Heavens and I prayed, having a lengthy talk with God. My grandmother’s advice of finding a special window to have God lift a burden has always worked for me. This time, I felt the burden lift. Thank you, Gramma!

An additional mammogram. I’ve had several but I knew this one would be different. Just imagine a portion of your body placed into a paddle where the radiologist pushes, pulls, probes, squeezes, tightens….oops, not the right position so it is time to push, pull, probe, squeeze and tighten again — while attempting to get the muscles, tissues and dense breast materials to tighten, flatten — perhaps like a pancake.

My breast could never become a pancake!

If you are a man, just imagine a tender part of your body pulled into the paddle while having the radiologist tighten…and tighten…and tighten…until there is a pancake size and when the position is intact, she says, “Now don’t move.” Meanwhile your special area feels so tight, uncomfortable, and a bit painful while you attempt to escape into a part of your memory reserved for relaxation.

What? You’ve never heard of a mammogram? A mammogram is an x-ray. Allow me to discuss it further:

According to the American Cancer Society, “Getting a mammogram is one of the best things a woman can do to protect her health. This simple test can find breast cancers early, when they’re small and have not spread. This is when breast cancer is easier to treat and the chances of survival are higher.

If you’re 40 or older, you should get a mammogram every year. Don’t wait. Call your doctor to schedule one today.”

The American Cancer Society strongly recommends that women over 40 have a yearly mammogram. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so when you see women, and those who are close to women, wearing the pink ribbons, or pink clothing, remember to schedule your mammogram.

Remember to do monthly self breast exams every month.  For  thoroughly detailed images of how to do a self breast exam, visit the website:

Every women should have a yearly physical and have a breast examination by a doctor. While examining your breast, pay close attention to the nipples and if you see any changes, be sure to see your doctor.

In the event you should see a change, a lump or swelling, irritation or dimpling, any pain at the nipple, redness, or a discharge, please see your doctor.

After making the appointment, checking with BCBS, I approached my husband about my letter.  I’ve got to have an additional mammogram/ultrasound. It seems I have a glandular change in my left breast.

He looked up from the computer. Wow! This time, I had his complete attention.

What if…what if I have breast cancer and I lose my breast? I could not live like that.

Phil rushed to hold me. Suddenly the weight of the world lifted as he held me. Those arms of strength and love have gotten me through some rough times in my life.

“Did you speak with the doctor?”

Yes. Let’s just say my Julia Sugarbaker kicked in.

“You’ll be fine,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”

Easy for him to say. What if He was the one who would have a part of his anatomy placed into paddles that desire to flatten the tissues like they are pancakes.

Finally the day arrived. I did my best not to worry; after all, I had a talk with God. I arrived early. The appointment was at 3:40pm. I didn’t leave until after 5pm. This time, the radiologist explained what she was doing. She even allowed me to look over my shoulder. Silly me. I was still attached to the paddle so when I turned to look to the right — well, let’s just say — it wasn’t comfortable!

When will I know the results?”

“I’ll show these to the doctor before you leave. You might still need an ultrasound, but we’ll wait until the doctor says we do.”


Moments seemed like hours as I went back to the dressing room — dressed in a thin bed jacket style of fabric. I couldn’t get dressed until the radiologist said I could. So, the wait began. I know it was only a few minutes, but it seemed like hours. I kept glancing down at my manicured nails. I have a tendency to pull the nail polish off when I am so stressful. I played with my nails and waited. A knock was at the door. I opened it.

The radiologist introduced me to the doctor. “We’ll see you in a year,” she said.

I can go home? I don’t need the ultrasound?

I sighed with delight. Such sweet words to hear.

“It’s just a glandular change. Nothing to be alarmed about.”

How I wanted to hug her but I knew if I lifted my arms, I would be exposed to the world. Instead, I shook her hand.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” she said.

Yes, it will be a great Happy Thanksgiving now.

I suddenly felt guilty while driving home, thinking of the women who have experienced the same tests, only to hear the dreadful six-letter-word that starts with a C.

Somehow. Someway. Someday. Cancer must find a cure. Just when — and at what cost will that day arrive? Every day I pray for a cure while remembering my precious grandmother. Her courage. Her strength. Her love for her granddaughters. How I miss her!



7 thoughts on “Mammogram 101

  1. Glad that everything turned out well. It is a scary feeling.

    I’m sorry your grandmother had to go through so much. It sounds like she was a wonderful lady who gave Godly advice. I had heard that women were butchered many years ago. Makes me even more thankful for medical advances and that I had such a wonderful surgeon.

    God bless.

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