Time stands still: my six-month mammogram

Time stands still in the radiology waiting room. You sit, half-dressed, torso lightly covered in a wrap that still leaves you shivering in the artificial cold of the medical building. Fake lighting, bland colors, and non-description artwork illustrate the scene, as though somehow the artificiality will make it better. When you emerge into bright daylight, blinking and groping for sunglasses, the myriad of nature’s colors overwhelm and remind you that the visit was something not real.

The exam itself is like something from a bad science fiction film. Machines that gently hum move with ornate precision at the touch of foot pedals. They take pictures in seconds that used to take minutes or longer to develop, but just because the picture emerges so soon doesn’t mean that its meaning is so rapidly evident. You sit. And you wait. And then you wait some more.

If you’re lucky, the tech comes back quickly to inform you that you can get dressed and go on with your day. If you’re less lucky, they want more pictures. Maybe it will mean more time with the mean machine that treats breasts like they’re made of silly putty, squishing them into awkward shapes in some vain attempt to remove one dimension from your form. Maybe it will mean that you need an ultrasound instead – a rendezvous with a microphone-shaped paddle and goo that feels like otherworldly slime. You never understand the pictures presented on the screen. We aren’t meant to see inside ourselves so literally unless something is wrong, and even then what is opaque seems clear – yet remains opaque on many levels.

Today, I had an epic wait after my first set of pictures. Someone was less lucky than I; they had a biopsy and the radiologist looked over those images at length. I’m sad and tired and annoyed, but I’m not the person who was biopsied, so I count my blessings and hold my tongue. The tech doing my second set of pictures manhandles me more but the machine hurts less. I can’t explain it. I’m just sadness and anxiety. She tries to reassure me that the pictures are just additional details, but I still just want to run away.

When family members have had breast cancer, it makes you want to know whether you will get it, but – at the same time – you don’t want to know.

Today, I’m lucky. I escape without an ultrasound. I escape with the order to come back in six months, hopefully to be back on an annual cycle again. I’m sent away with the words “You are stable”. That’s not the same as “You’re clean”. That’s “no additional growth at this time” or “we will keep an eye on things”.

I walk to my car, almost 2-1/2 hours after I arrived. I know I’ll be back in six months. I hope my results are no worse. For a child of a survivor, for the niece of a two-time survivor (who ultimately succumbed to lung cancer), “no worse” is a victory.

But I will try to spend tonight by myself, secluding myself from family and friends, because even with “no worse” results, I’m emotionally spent. I’m wrung out like a washcloth. And I have to preserve my strength for six months from now.

How Komen isn’t “for the cure” anymore

So, this is one of those posts where I’m going to rant a little. My apologies in advance. It’s just that I’m really ticked off now, and I feel the need to get some of this off my chest.

Since about 1996 (excepting only 2 years), I’ve done the Race for the Cure down in my hometown of Washington, DC. When I couldn’t make it down, and even in some of the years when I did, I also tried to do the Boston Race for the Cure, although that’s been less frequent due to all kinds of other things cropping up on my schedule. The RFTC at home is my chance to pull together a bunch of friends – plus my family – and do the Race in a crowd. I’ve even pulled together a team with one of my BFFs, and we’ve raised thousands of dollars for Komen over the years.

But not anymore.

I was thrown off a little by seeing things bathed in pink and wondering whether Komen was taking it a little too far to have Kitchenaid stand mixers that had “a portion” of the sale going “to the cure”. Anything that could be painted pink, short of a poodle, seemed to be – and there was always that “portion” going “to the cure”. It seemed a little opportunistic, perhaps a lot whorish, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt because it was all going to the right cause: to raise funds in support of research to stop breast cancer and to provide services to men and women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. When you have friends and family touched by this awful disease, it seems like low-hanging fruit in terms of fundraisers. Everybody knows SOMEBODY who’s had it.

I was peeved when I heard that Komen had started to sue other charities and fundraisers that used the term “for the cure” because they deemed it infringement on their brand. I could understand some of why this could be an issue, since I’ve seen things that look dodgy that have “for the cure” that are certainly not going to Komen…and people who aren’t familiar with the organization may just assume that anything with “for the cure” is going to them, even when it’s not. But still, you don’t see the Minute Maid people using bulldozers to take out kids’ lemonade stands.

But then I saw a story from the Washington Post that said Komen was cutting off further grants to Planned Parenthood, under the guise of a new internal regulation that barred grants to organizations under investigation by Congress. Since some of the more conservative members of Congress are hellbent-for-leather on driving Planned Parenthood out of business, OF COURSE it’s under investigation. Thus, Komen cuts off grants. That means that life-saving breast cancer-related services (like, say, mammograms) provided for free or at a discount via local Planned Parenthoods just got defunded. In other words, the pro-life agenda is actually turning pro-death: by turning womens health issues into some kind of moronic political hockey match, poor, uninsured and underinsured women will no longer be able to get the services they need from Planned Parenthood and will risk having cancer go undetected or untreated.

WAY TO GO PRO-LIFERS IN CONGRESS: you just got Komen to do some of your dirty work for you.

And WAY TO GO KOMEN: you were stupid enough to think that playing politics with womens health is an okay thing to do.

So, here’s what I plan to do about it: I’m not going to raise one red cent for Komen until they fix this mess.

I will continue to do the walk with my family (although the money that goes into my registration basically covers the cost of my participation and the event itself; they rely on the fundraising to help get them in the black). I will raise money BUT that money will be directed to Planned Parenthood. I will set up a site via FirstGiving that allows me to accept donations online (securely) that will go straight to Planned Parenthood with a minimum of fuss. I’ve already checked out the site, and I’ll be setting up my page in a few weeks, as my plans for the Race start to come together.

I’m so angry I can’t even describe it in words that will make sense. When someone says that it’s okay to defund medical services to women – especially poorer women – they’re saying that those women are acceptable losses. I’m here to say that’s not the case. This isn’t about abortion. These grants weren’t going to pay for abortions. These grants went to help detect and treat breast cancer. And I’m offended that it got politicized by people who apparently only pay lip service to the notion that they’re trying to be “for the cure”. What the hell can you cure if you cut off services? Nancy Brinker et al, should hang their heads in shame. Komen was supposed to broaden access, not choke it off.

It blows my mind.

And I’m done. Until Komen removes its head from its rear-end, I refuse to raise money for the organization. I will encourage my friends and family to donate to Planned Parenthood to keep those services available for women in need. Somebody has to. Because, honestly, that’s “for the cure” so much more than any pink ANYTHING in the world.

Consider this Race this year the Race for Access. The Race for Non-Stupidity. The Race for Non-Assholishness by Organizations That Should Know Better. The Race to Keep Medical Facilities Open For Medical Needs.

In the meantime, if you want to donate to your nearby Planned Parenthood, you can donate to a regional PP via the Planned Parenthood web site.