My First Mammogram

Color Me Pink:

Men, Mammograms

And Breast Cancer

Earlier this week, I had my first — and I hope, last — mammogram. And I can tell you that my wife has not been completely straight with me, over the years, about this procedure. Whenever I would ask her how it went, she would just quickly say, “It was uncomfortable.”

Well, I’m here to tell you — for me — it was really uncomfortable. Not quite as uncomfortable as, say, when a car, under which you are working, slips off the jack and falls on you.  Well, perhaps I exaggerate a bit. And while you’re “uncomfortable,” the technician tells you not to breathe, not to move. Or, you’ll have do it all over again.

When it was finally over, I complained to my wife, who is a veteran of these procedures. She looked at me, shook her head, and declared me “a wimp.”

I knew that look. It said: This test has proven itself countless times and helped hundreds, no, thousands of women discover the early signs of cancer that allowed them to get immediate treatment and save their lives. Don’t write anything that would scare women into thinking they should avoid this life-saving procedure.

I get it, and I encourage all women who discover anything out of the ordinary after a breast self-exam, and certainly most women over age 40, to get a mammogram and to push the other women in their lives to get the scans, too.

But, for me, this was new territory. A couple of months ago, I realized that my right breast was tender to the touch and was fuller (more fleshy) than the left breast. It would hurt whenever anything touched it, or If I moved my arm in certain ways. I figured I needed to get it checked out, because, in 2008, I’d had a similar experience with my left breast.

Of course, I was worried then, because I knew that the actor Richard Roundtree had been diagnosed with breast cancer many years earlier. He had survived it; is still with us, and still working. So, I knew that it was possible for men to get it. But, I didn’t know of any other male who had the disease, and I was under the impression it was pretty rare among men.

I guess that makes men with breast cancer special, but I didn’t want to be that special.

In 2008, my doctor ordered an ultrasound scan, and it was determined that there was “abnormal” tissue in the left breast under the nipple. I then saw a surgeon, who operated, removed all of the tissue in question. It was sent to a lab for examination and determined to be abnormal, but  not malignant. Thank God!

There was extreme concern on the part of my primary care physician, because my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer three times. After the first battle with the disease, each succeeding occurrence was more aggressive than the previous one. At the last occurrence, she was 95 years old — and tired. She said she wasn’t going to submit to any more surgery and wouldn’t agree to chemotherapy or radiation. She was done!  She added that “God made this body, and if He wants to fix it, He will. Whatever He decides is fine with me.”

She made me and my two brothers promise that, come hell or high water, she would not have to leave her home of 40 years until the end. After several months of in-home hospice care and my brothers there with her, providing around-the-clock care, she slipped away peacefully one night.

This week, after being told the time to show up at the Women’s Breast Center for my test, I was extremely nervous and feeling pretty awkward, too. I had been told to make sure I parked in the “Pink Parking Lot” connected to the medical office building and the hospital. Inside, everyone I encountered was female, the receptionists, technicians, everybody.

When a technician came out to get me from the waiting area, she called for “Mrs. Fuller.” I stood up; she look puzzled, then smiled. I was led to a room, told to remove my shirt, given wipes with which to remove the deodorant from my underarms, and handed a robe. When I sat down to wait for her to return, I noticed the imposing machine for the first time. It was a sobering sight, reminding me of Gort, the huge, humanoid robot protector of Michael Rennie’s character (Klaatu) in the classic 1951 sci-fi movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

One of the difficulties for me — and probably for many men — is that there isn’t that much tissue in the breast area to corral to get a good specimen for the vice, er, arms, er, mouth of the machine. I thought the technician would have to pull the flesh of my chest off the bones. The pressure was enormous, and it was difficult to not breathe or move. But finally, both breasts were done, and it was time for the ultrasound scan, which, by the way, was a breeze compared to dealing with Gort.

Now, let me say that the technicians I encountered were very professional and very pleasant, but they would not give me a clue as to how I did. I tried to read their faces to see if I could pick up any hint of what they had “seen,” but they kept telling me that a full report would be made to my doctor and I would have to see her for the results.

Having never experienced a mammogram, I waited nervously for my doctor to call. Time seemed to crawl by. Then, two days after the event, she called and explained that there was, indeed, a “spot” detected in my chest, but she and the radiologist believe it is an infection, a bacterial infection.

She said it seems to have some sort of fluid in its center. She prescribed an antibiotic I was to start taking immediately. After a month, I am to go back to see her, and then get a follow-up ultrasound to see if the growth has disappeared. If it hasn’t, she cautioned, then we will have to take additional steps, including surgery to remove the growth — and have it tested.

I was relieved, thanked God, and felt a deep appreciation for those friends and family members, who knew about the situation, and who had prayed for me and encouraged me to stay positive.

But, in the back of my mind, I keep thinking, “It’s not over — yet.”

I remember how, when cancer gripped my mother the first two times, we all were so confident that she would beat it. But then, there was that third time …

Because she was/is my mother, she and I, of course, have a lot of things in common. I just hope breast cancer isn’t one of them.

Stay tuned …