Mammograms — with a little bit of sunshine


My neighbor Kazu-chan came over to my house for dinner the other night and while she was here said, “Amy, zannen. The hospital boat was just at the island next door giving free mammograms to women.” We will have to go all the way to the mainland to get ours.

According to Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, “Women living in North America have the highest rate of breast cancer in the world.” One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. Good thing I’m not living in North America. I wonder about the risks if you’re just visiting North America.

Just when I thought I was safe living in Japan, I read an article in the paper that said your chances of breast cancer are increased by up to 30 percent if you drink three alcoholic drinks a day. And, your chances are still increased if you only drink 1 to 2 drinks. At first, I thought I had nothing to worry about because I don’t really drink every day. As long as you don’t include that Bailey’s in my coffee in the morning sometimes, the glass of wine (or two sometimes) with dinner, and the Guinness for dinner when I’m busy. And that’s just in one day.

Despite the fact that mammography sounds like a college course in the geography of mammals, I sprinted to the hospital to get my annual checkup.

At the hospital, I was sent into the X-ray waiting room. There were two X-ray rooms, each with a plaque on the door. One said “manma 1” in katakana and had the English translation “Breast 1.” The other door was labeled “manma 2” with the English translation “Breast 2.” Perhaps this meant that one breast should go into one X-ray room and the other breast into the other. And where would the rest of my body be during all this? Maybe that’s why the chairs in the waiting area were situated between the two doors, not in front of one or the other. Or maybe that’s why the test is called a mamm-o-gram: They send each breast to the proper room through some kind of hospital mail system.

My name was finally called and I was ushered into “Breast 1.” The assistant, a woman even smaller than me and wearing a pink lab coat, asked me to take off my blouse and to stand in front of the machine. Strip for a machine?! They could have at least provided me with some striptease music.

But I obliged, saying, “Yes, mamm,” and what came next, as any women over 40 knows, is rather painful. Its humiliating enough to have to stand naked in front of a machine but then to have it clamp down on your breasts is just, well, evil. And this is when I realized that the names “Breast 1” and “Breast 2” were indeed incorrect. What they really meant was “Beast 1” and “Beast 2.” I sidled up to Beast 1 and it chomped down on each breast two times. I could definitely feel its teeth.

I couldn’t help envy mermaids, who probably don’t have to go through this. It could be worse I suppose. I’m lucky I am not a cow, for example, with four teats.

And pity the poor mother pig!

Meanwhile, the little pink assistant was sliding large sheets of film, secured in metal frames, in and out of the beast each time a photo was taken. She did this very deftly with both hands, literally juggling the sheets of film, tossing them up in the air every now and then, before filing them into their proper place. She could have joined Cirque de Soleil as a Breast Film Juggler.

I was sent back out to the waiting area and waited with my breasts for the results. I was sure my breasts were longer and flatter than when I had arrived.

Later, the doctor showed me the X-ray pictures of my breasts, two symmetrical rather artificially elongated ovals. I had never seen X-rays of my breasts before and I’m not sure what I expected — perhaps the two posing with Mt. Fuji looming in the background like at the puri kura picture booths. But instead there was just a bunch of white matter that looked like clouds. Cirrus clouds.

All normal, the doctor said, nothing to worry about. And he smiled. Personally, I would have added to the clouds a little bit of sunshine to that forecast.