“Hold your breath,” the technician states.
Without the noise of my breathing, the whirring of the machine sounds louder. After a few seconds that seem like endless minutes, the machine lifts as if it has heard my prayers; it frees my breast from its unwelcome grasp. The process is repeated as my right breast undergoes the same procedure.
I fear mammograms—not because the pain is intolerable, but because I have had four biopsies based on mammogram findings. The first occurred when I was twenty-seven years old, the mother of a one-year-old. The last took place sixteen years ago, when I was fifty-four. Each biopsy involved an outpatient visit to the hospital, the dreaded intravenous needle, and the angst-filled days of waiting until the final lab tests arrived: benign.
What a lovely word benign is! Yet, as I prepare for my annual mammogram, I cannot ignore the fear that spreads throughout my mind and body: What if? What if this year’s results are the ones I dread?