What my first mammogram taught me about sisterhood

Each week the Reckon Women newsletter includes a column from women in the South, in collaboration with See Jane Write. Click here to join the Reckon Women Facebook group.

By Caryn Bell

Mammograms are not fun. I had my first one recently. A COVID screening check-in served as a vivid reminder that going to the doctor, any doctor, looks much different than it did early last year, which is when I was scheduled to have my first mammogram. I rescheduled several times because other women had scared me with their assertions that a root canal was better than a mammogram.

As I entered the office, I could not help but consider the number of women who had crossed the threshold of that sliding glass door begging God for a clean scan. A part of me wondered if I would join the ranks of them, not because I felt a lump or had a history of breast cancer in my family. I wondered because every woman wonders, I suppose. We’ve all heard the horror stories of cancer, the childhood monster lurking under the bed now all grown up. Women always know breast cancer is a possibility, so, like with the childhood monster under the bed, they often choose not to look hoping it will not be real.

As women, we have to do a better job of supporting our sisters in their fears. When we remind one another of medical horror stories, we are letting the monster win.  Instead we should encourage one another to schedule the appointment, hold each other accountable, and remind one another that no matter the outcome, we are allies because we are women, strong women, who need other women.

This was never more apparent to me than it was during this dreaded appointment.

In the waiting room, a lady beside me in a blue surgical mask was filling out a medical form about her number of pregnancies followed by her number of births. I wondered if the two numbers matched for her the way they didn’t for so many women. She didn’t seem to be in the mood for small talk. I wasn’t either. The amplified sound of the gurgling water dispenser mixed with the suctioning of the Keurig had me seconds away from darting out of the door, and I would have had it not been for Jane, the technician who was ready for me.

I told her it was my first time having a mammogram, and I was a little nervous. She proceeded to roll out the red carpet for me in such a way that made me feel like getting a mammogram was a day at the spa. She showed me where to change and explained I was in good hands. “In good hands,” I chuckled. Was this a mammogram joke I didn’t know about? I was literally seconds away from being completely in her hands.

Prior to the x-rays, she draped me in a warm blanket and sat with me for a few minutes. She told me she was proud of me for coming in and that she would explain every step of the process, so I would know exactly what to expect. During the exam, she asked me about my family and asked if she was pressing too hard.

Before I knew it, we were finished. In her debriefing, she walked me through the process of what would happen with the x-rays and said she hoped she would not see me again because it would mean my scans were clear. It made me wonder how many women had probably seen her again. For a moment, I considered how going through a difficult battle would be much easier with someone like Jane.

As I drove away from the office, I thought about the noble work women do each day. No matter the profession, there is something to be said for being kind and putting others at ease the way she did for me. In this life, women are pressed, mashed, and squeezed on every side. Many times, this pressure is induced from other women. This shouldn’t be.

If we are going to defeat the monster, we need the freedom to be raw and vulnerable enough to receive help from our own. We must link arms with strong, kind women, like Jane, who say, “You don’t have to be scared. I’ve got you.”

When I got home, I vowed to write her a thank you note. Instead, I decided to write an article to remind her, and me, and all women that the world needs more Janes.

Caryn Bell is a district literacy coach for secondary schools in Santa Rosa County, FL.  In addition to a passion for teaching, she enjoys freelance writing and encouraging teachers with her daily blog “Dear Teacher,” where her goal is to write 180 blogs (one for each school day) this year.

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