I finally had my mammogram yesterday. A couple of months late but with no insurance it took an entire network of sisters who knew that I needed to go visit that squishing machine to make it happen. Women who understand that we all hate that contraption, hate the very thought of leaning in chin up arm over here just another notch down don’t breathe. This year though I had some irregularities that meant I couldn’t really ignore the reminders in my inbox and mailbox saying it was time to schedule, even though I worried about how to pay and what they might find. I delayed, I kept my concerns secret until I couldn’t and then I whispered and hinted to just the right women who found the necessary resources and soon I had an appointment that led to another and another and yesterday was mammogram day. The worry was over, no need for concern. All clear, see you next year. As I thanked God for lumps that weren’t cancer, I also praised Him for all who made the day possible, the techs, the docs and the women who made the connections. Still, I hate the machine. I’m only human. I realized also I kinda hate my breasts.
That cold machine that looks inside my body only sees tissue. What it misses is that my breasts are scary parts to me, these flesh pieces that hang a bit too low now but once sustained my babies. It doesn’t see that I fretted in school that they weren’t big enough, then later frowned that they were too large to go without something to support them. The machine doesn’t see that I have always been slightly at war with these appendages who expose my gender and often draw unwanted attention to me sexually. The machine looks at tissue, looking for disease battles to be fought and doesn’t know a lifelong war has been waged.
The technician with cold hands, a gentle soul and an accent I can’t place instructs me in all the moves to get the best view as I consider how my breasts have shaped my life, how many hours I have spent thinking about these very members. Her low voice fades as I remember the empowerment I felt in those first moments of breastfeeding my daughter, knowing I had just carried, delivered and was now nourishing her, ME! My body was no longer dirty, sexualized, I didn’t escape onto the ceiling as I watched others invade it, I was with her as she fed from me. I gave her life and she gave me wholeness. We bonded over the latching of her tiny mouth to my personhood, my breasts reaching from my soul to her. Milk enriched with hopes and dreams that she would never feel anything but the empowerment I was experiencing in that moment dripped into her mouth, ran down her cheek, soaked into her newborn skin. She smelled of me, the sweet scent of deep yearning surrounding us both.
“Turn this way, please,” I hear from a distance, as I remember in middle school pubescent boys running by laughing as they stroked fingers down my back, checking to see if I was wearing a bra yet. Shaming all of the girls, those with their nubby nipples and those of us who bloomed later, who knew we were lacking. The world and little boys telling us our worth was measured by our cup size in 6th grade, a message that continues in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and tv anchor dress standards. My mother didn’t understand my dismay at my flat chest, she bore the shame and back problems from growing breasts early that required she never go without a bra, ever. I remember watching her get ready for work in the morning, her breasts hanging as she powdered and wrangled them into shoulder-cutting, back-scrapping heavy duty armor. I longed to grow breasts like her, I knew it was my birthright. She hoped I never would. She bought me a training bra to quiet the school yard boys, one that would suffice for years as I didn’t grow and her hopes were realized.
“Are you doing ok, Lisa? We are almost done with the right side, just one more,” I float away again as I recall my very first mammogram when a lump was found and I was thrust headlong into a different world of worried faces and alternate rooms and extra exams all behind the doors that kept the men on the other side so women could wear pink gowns that open in the front and don’t really cover anything. A quick biopsy and another all clear and a reunification with my husband before he even knew I was fighting with my breasts and had escaped with a win again, we went for lunch as if nothing had really just happened. Yet I knew, a glimpse, just a tiny moment’s worth of what so many women don’t get to come away from, they stay in those rooms and don’t go for lunch and they know the battle is only beginning and I wonder how many memories they have of their breasts, something that men will just never understand.
I had my yearly mammogram and all is clear. I turned this way and that, I leaned in and held my breath, I got squeezed and smashed and I have to do it again next year. I remembered one time laying on a secluded beach with Chef in Mexico, newly married or maybe not quite yet and removing my bikini top. The sun was hot on my skin and I dozed safely, aware that I didn’t need to battle in that moment, I could rest in peace with more of my body exposed. No 6th grade boys or invading machines or judging society or even tiny babies to pull and tug. That beach was a communion, the only one ever, between me and my body, a white flag of surrender of all the worries and wantings. The sun lowered, the day ended, my breasts and I picked up our weapons and prepared for years of war ahead. Still, we had a moment, we had a day. My breasts were enough, I was enough.
“We want to do an ultrasound, just to get another look at what the machine can’t see,” I hear as she guides me into another room, more positions. As I look at the ceiling and recall all the times I have been touched by those who weren’t so gentle and didn’t tell me what they were going to do next and didn’t ask permission and didn’t care if I was comfortable, I wonder at how we have distorted and diseased what God has given us to nourish His babies. How a body part no different from any other has come to be so sexualized that even little boys who don’t really know what they are doing participate in shaming. I wonder how sad God must feel that I war with my own body, His temple, only able to commune fully on a sandy beach far away, rather than daily in my own skin. What would it take to stop hating and fearing the parts of me that God created every bit as much as my eyes that seek out beauty and my ears that listen for laughter? “Everything looks good, we want you back next year, no cause for concern.” The machine and the tech and doctor don’t see though what God is showing me, the concern and worry were never about the lumps and the tissue.
I have a year before my next encounter with the machine. 365 days, will that be long enough to fully lay to rest this war and come to peace with my body? Will I enter the pink rooms and don the front tying gown next year with a love of my full self, an awareness that I am actually exactly just right. I am enough, not too much, not wanting. I have breasts, nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Like the grainy images I spied on the screens, impossible to understand and interpret without training, the path forward is unclear but still calls to me. I don’t think I can really be absolutely grateful to the God who sends me sisters to set up appointments and foundations to pay for the uninsured and scans that are clear and technicians that are holy and inventors who create the machines in the first place and not understand that at the heart of it all is a God who loves me, all of me, my breasts included.
I had my mammogram yesterday and all is clear, the tissue as well as my need to embrace self- love, to truly commit to self-care. If I really want to have communion with God, I have to begin to acknowledging the vessel He gave me and offer some grace to my breasts, who are not at war with me, but have been with me all along, waiting for my surrender and acceptance. A lifetime of turning this way and that, of covering up and hiding away, no easy feat to stop this battling. The gentle words of the technician remind me, “We’ll go slowly, just one step at a time, and let you catch your breath between.” Yesterday I had my mammogram, today I begin the journey of acceptance. It may not show up on any of their reports, but that is what I learned in my pink gown. Thank you God for all of it, for another chance at communion.
By the way, have you scheduled your yearly appointment yet?