After a routine doctor’s appointment on Monday revealed an abnormality in my chest, the doctor scheduled an ultrasound to rule out breast cancer. Of course, you can imagine my surprise when the nurse told me that the office radiology lab would be unable to handle that task. Instead she referred me to the Baptist Breast Center.
Now I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, the words ‘Baptist’ and ‘Breast’ should never go together . . . it just begs me to go there – ‘Methodist Breast,’ ‘Catholic Breast,’ etc.
Never mind the fact that when we moved to the Little Rock area, my family and I joked that the Baptist Breast Center was actually a Baptists-run chicken strip drive-through restaurant. I know, sad, isn’t it? But I digress.
Back to my story.
Well, I met one of our Sunday School teachers for lunch today and then headed down to that place for my little test to be done. Upon arriving at the clinic, three different female employees looked at me like I was lost and needed directions. When I assured them that I was at the right place (no matter how wrong it might have felt), I checked in and filled out all the necessary paperwork.
As my eyes glanced bashfully at the various women with whom I shared a waiting room, a scrub-clad assistant came through the door and seemed to scream, “GARRICK CONNER?” I got up from my chair, walked briskly to the door, and asked her, “Was it really that hard to tell?” The lady smiled and said that she knew it must feel a bit strange but assured me that other men have been there before too (She didn’t say if I was the first this year or not, but it was clear that she was trying to diffuse any embarrassment I might have been experiencing.).
She did ask me how long the place in question had been present. “A couple years,” I told her. “Other doctors have said it’s probably nothing.”
“Ooooh,” she said in a very concerned tone. “It’s good that you’re here.”
I was taken into a small room that I thought was a dressing room. The nurse told me that I would need to take off my shirt for the test. I could have sworn that I heard an ‘s’ on that word as she finished her sentence.
“Tests, plural?” I asked.
“Yes, sir. The doctor ordered a mammogram AND an ultrasound,” she replied flatly.
“He didn’t tell me that,” I insisted.
Then she asked that question that I suppose all breast nurses are supposed to ask, “How long have you had this issue?”
Hadn’t I already heard this question before? I said, “A couple years.”
“Ooooh,” she said along with a slight sigh. “It will be fine,” she assured me. “Someone will be back to get you in a few minutes.”
I was confused. “Well, what am I supposed to do in here?” I inquired.
“Nothing. Just have a seat,” she said. Then she closed the door behind her.
As I turned to sit down, my eyes were drawn to the sign on the mirror that said simply, “Please watch the Breast Self Exam video while you wait.” I thought to myself, “Hmmm. I’m not sure my wife really wants me watching that . . . better not.”
Then I saw something I had never seen before: a breast model. Not a nude female but a silicon-like breast on a platter . . . . I mean, tray. OK, I honestly don’t know what it was sitting on because I couldn’t help but look at it and wonder, “Why in the world am I in here with that?”
I decided that I needed to read something while I waited. Southern Living? No, I wasn’t really interested in that. Besides, I often see issues of that magazine when Michelle’s subscription is delivered to the house. RedBook? No, that didn’t really strike my fancy either. The only other available options were a copy of a Gideon-placed Bible and a breast cancer support magazine.
I have never more regretted my choice to pass over the Bible as I did on this day. On the cover of the breast cancer magazine, the headline story just jumped out at me: “Men Share Their Breast Cancer Stories.” Oh, golly . . . just what I wanted to see. Of course, I turned to that article and read all about men wearing pink for breast cancer awareness. I learned several things about male breast cancer, and to be honest, it made me think I was probably a goner.
What was probably just a few minutes seemed like an eternity as I thought through such pertinent matters as who I would call first, where I wanted to be buried, and what musical selections I would definitely want sung at my funeral.
Then another nurse-looking person came in and told me to follow her. We went into a room for the dreaded mammogram. I removed my shirt and undershirt and did exactly as she instructed. The woman said a few things to try and make me feel more comfortable – like, “You’re not the only man who’s had this done.”
“Yeah, right,” I thought to myself.
As I scooted closer into the contraption, she told me that the pressure she applied would hurt for a bit but that it wouldn’t take long. Let’s just say that I have a whole new appreciation for women. This test was particularly painful, and I struggled to even know what the nurse was saying to me as my mind seemed to turn to mush.
“Are you alright?” she asked. “Yes. . . I mean, no,” I answered, as a dizzy feeling washed over me.
“Here’s a chair. Sit down,” she said. Then she opened the door, and called loudly to a co-worker, “I need a cold pack in here!”
Now I must admit that I am a real wuss when it comes to medical stuff. I mean, after all, I once passed out cold at the eye doctor. Too much information just does a real number on me. And today I felt a bit overloaded.
After placing the cold pack on my bald head, the nurse said, “You just stay right there. We can do the other side sitting down.”
“The other side?!” I asked with complete bewilderment. “But that side is fine!”
“Well, we just want to be sure,” she replied.
So here I was in a clinic I didn’t want to be in, surrounded by stuff I didn’t want to look at, trying to somehow press my hairy chest into a contraption that it clearly was not designed for. You can imagine my relief when she said, “All done.”
The ultrasound was WAY easier than the mammogram. The only pain with that was when she snatched off the ‘x’ of adhesive tape that marked the spot in question. And really, I’d have preferred a full-body wax job to the humiliation I felt during that first experience.
Following a conversation with the doctor and nurse, my fears were confirmed – no, not that I had a major problem . . . but that I DIDN’T and had gone through this experience for seemingly no reason.
I asked the doctor if this was something I should be concerned about in the future.
“No,” he answered. “Besides, if you’ve had this for two years, if it were malignant, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Just as I suspected. They did think I was a goner!
What did I gain from this experience? Well, let’s see:
- Peace of mind that I’m going to be OK.
- An incredible sense of empathy for women throughout the world
- A strange identification with cows
- A real understanding of why a man might hesitate to follow-up at a place called the Baptist Breast Center
Any regrets? Well, yes, just one. Given the chance to do it all over again, I’d definitely have touched the fake boob. I mean, after all, it’s kind of like Halley’s Comet. How many times will that opportunity come knocking?
Oh yeah, one more thing. The next time I wear my pink shirt or tie to church, I’ll be sporting it with a much greater respect for those who have not only been affected by breast cancer — but also for those who have merely endured the diagnostic tests.