It’s Not a Toomah

One of the benefits of working for a large-ish company is we have lots of perks that I never had when working at ad agencies.  A couple weeks ago the Spectrum Health Betty Ford Breast Cancer Bus paid us a visit so I bit the bullet and scheduled my first mammogram.

Betty Ford Breast Cancer Bus

Wheee! Can you feel the fun? My facebook friends were out in full force sharing stories about getting their boobs squished, as well as several breast cancer survivors high-fiving me for having it done. Since this was my first squish — more commonly known as a baseline scan — I had NO idea what to expect.

It was really uncomfortable, but even the tightest moments didn’t last too long, and within 20 minutes I was back at my desk looking forward to our final softball game of the season (I finally caught a ball for an out!). Then a week later, as I looked forward to getting the new iPhone 5C (it rocks), I got a call that’s made the past five days beyond stressful.

Apparently the scan showed something — they weren’t sure what exactly — and I needed to come in for more scans as soon as possible. The nurse assured me that since I don’t have a baseline to compare to they just needed more images to know what they’re looking at (plus something about dense breasts). That seemed like a logical explanation until she told me where I needed to go: The Lemmen Holton Cancer Pavillion, the leading cancer treatment center in the area and the same place where a friend of mine is going to treat HER cancer. (Not that I have cancer. This is just how my mind works.)

I made my appointment like a good little doobie and spent the next five days F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G out. Freaking. Every time I saw a woman with short hair I imagined what I’d look like if my hair fell out. I had more than a few emotions about my left breast: anger, sadness, longing (because I imagined if it was removed). Then I’d remind myself that it could be nothing. I had my first mammogram in a bus — how reliable could that be? (Again, I’m not knocking the SHBFCB’s quality, just sharing what was going through my mind non-stop for 120 hours.)

I also made the VERY difficult decision (for me) not to tell anyone beyond my husband and best friend. I didn’t want anyone worrying until they really had something to worry about, and MAN it was hard not to tell my family and friends.

Cut to yesterday — a beautiful, abnormally warm day for October in Michigan — when I drove to the CANCER CENTER. Seriously, it said ‘cancer’ everywhere in the meticulously designed building. A sympathetic woman directed me to the mammography floor and as I walked to the elevator I encountered a woman helping her teenage son who is clearly going through chemo. We’re all familiar with the images of cancer — weak bodies, pale skin, no hair — but standing in front of someone fighting for his life really brings it home. I nearly lost it in the elevator.

Things were a little cheerier on the Betty Ford floor, and before long I was robed from the waist up, sitting in a room with a dozen other anxious women. The mammogram wasn’t as bad as the first one (probably because I knew what to expect) and because it’s me I asked the technician how one gets into that line of work. “Someone has to do it,” she replied, stretching my appendage in a way I didn’t think possible. I was sent back to the waiting room as they read the scans, then called back for an ultrasound.

I must mention the decor in the exam rooms. We’ve all seen the poster of the cat hanging on a tree branch that dentists tack to the ceiling. Well the Betty Ford Center has this:

ceiling flowers

They read the ultrasound while I waited on the table, so of course I took a picture of my scan, too, but you’ll have to imagine that one.

The technician returned to the room and told me I have a cyst but they don’t need to do anything now. I’m to return for a follow-up in six months and we’ll take it from there. Even if it turns into something more serious, we’ve caught it early.

Moral of the story: GET A MAMMOGRAM!

Also, thank you to everyone who’s put up with my super pleasant attitude this week.

Final note: I have friends and loved ones who’ve struggled with cancer — some successfully, some not — and I mean no disrespect to them. I just wanted to share my personal experience.

About Melanie Hooyenga

Writer. Designer. Jock. Reader. Wife. Puppy-Mama. SCBWI member since 2015.


  1. qW

    You put the ‘fun’ in funbags, Hoo. Glad to hear you’re well, but shame on you for waiting until now for your first exam.

    Shine on, you crazy diamond.


  2. I’m glad you shared this – I went through something similar with not my first but my second “routine” mammogram, which was anything BUT routine. I had a bunch of spots that showed up, and of course no one was sure what they were, and I got scheduled for the high density mammo, which somehow manages to create images of your breasts that make them look a lot like the surface of the moon.

    The week between “We’ve spotted something unusual” and ‘Good news, it’s just calcium deposits” was the longest seven days of my life. I was scared, cried a lot, and wondered what my life would be without my boobs. Oddly, I was more concerned about losing my hair than my breasts – I used to work for a plastic surgeon, so I knew that in the worst case scenario, if I had to face a mastectomy, I’d get a great set of new ones as replacement.

    Like you, I didn’t tell a soul. I didn’t want anyone else to worry for me, I didn’t want to endure the endless questions, field the sympathetic comments on Facebook, and make anyone else scared on my behalf.

    Fortunately, all turned out well. But it was scary, and served as a reminder about how important it is to get my bewbies squished regularly. Just in case.

    • Wow, thank YOU for sharing. What you described is pretty much what I’ve been going through. And yes, the scan totally looks like the moon!

      I imagined losing my breasts but I just figured I’d get new, bigger ones.

  3. Carole

    Scary stuff. Melanie. Happy to know you’re ok.

    I’ve got a story similar to Patti’s and yours. Mine lasted a weekend. The space between a phone call on Friday to another appointment on Monday morning can be a long time. With me, it wasn’t an abnormality at all. Well, I guess it was, but it wasn’t anything new. It was just new imaging equipment that picked up something denser that the old equipment didn’t detect on my previous two mammograms.

    I may never forgive them for the way they told me that fact. After the second mammogram, which they affectionately called the “super squeeze,” I was asked not to change into my street clothes, but to sit and wait for a consultation. No fear there. After about 20 minutes, the doctor came out and took me into a little room by myself. I was just about ready to pass out at that point. He closed the door, and very seriously told me… that it was nothing. He then explained that they just got new imaging equipment that was much more sensitive than the last.

    • That’s just awful. Everyone I dealt with (aside from the ladies who checked me in in the bus) were very courteous and professional.

      Oddly the super squeeze didn’t hurt as much, but I was PMSing for the first so that may have added to my level of discomfort.

  4. You know, just the fact that the three of us have such similar stories makes me wonder if the “abnormal” mammogram result really isn’t that abnormal at all, from the standpoint that it may be far more common that anyone realizes or talks about.

  5. Trish

    It’s good that you posted this because when I had my blog up, this topic was the number one searched item. I, too, got a call back after my first scan. I showed pics of my mammogram and talked about the whole experience and not to freak out. The difference btw me and you is I had to wait 4 months to return because Chicago is so back logged! See, aren’t you glad you went?

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