Metal Mama is the affectionate name I have given to the mammogram machine in Hereford County Hospital. Mysterious and rather noble, she maintains the throne in the X-ray room and no one has yet challenged her supremacy. She is unyielding, dispassionate and cold to the touch. She stares in stoney silence as you stand before her, watching your every move with an air of feigned patience. Then she takes your breasts in her metal hands and squashes them each in turn. Occasionally, she’ll whisper to the radiologist that you have cancer. So would you be surprised if I tell you that Metal Mama and I are as good as mates?
When I first met up with her a year ago I did not know what to expect. I did not know I had cancer, I did not know that despite Metal Mama attempting to crush my breasts I would not actually feel pain. I went in to the palatial chamber fearful and naive. Metal Mama did nothing to allay my anxieties, and in fact she may have made them more acute. She was too shiny, too perfect, too supercilious by far. And that metal gleam of hers highlighted my own mortality. The fact that I had to remove my bra and T-shirt was a huge ordeal back then. It did not occur to me that Metal Mama and her radiographer side-kicks have seen hundreds of shapes and sizes passing as women. But there was so much I didn’t know then. Almost exactly a year ago.
To be perfectly honest I was not relishing my reunion with Metal Mama today. I remembered her hard stare, her cold grasp, her chilling verdict. She held my fate in her steely hands, and she always will do. I cannot think of her without some part of me shuddering. Today I had my trusted hound Trudy with me and she accompanied me into Metal Mama’s chamber. She had a sniff around the regal feet, but decided that the bin in the corner smelt more interesting so pitter-pattered off in that direction. Thanks Trudy! I faced Metal Mama alone whilst The Hoover hoovered quietly nearby. Unlike me, Metal Mama was no different from last year. She was still iron-hard and ice-cold, no-nonsense and no-frills. Yet as she was no longer a complete stranger I felt relatively at ease. Today Metal Mama and I had an understanding.
I smiled at the fact that today I was able to stand topless before Metal Mama without blushing scarlet. When you have breast cancer, one thing you quickly learn is that you have to order your inhibitions to move aside and shut up. I have learned to forget that it is me with no T-shirt on. Me automatically goes to the back of my head when I’m in a hospital environment. Metal Mama could have told me that a year ago.
But it does not pay to be cocky. Last year each X-ray courtesy of Metal Mama was painless (albeit slightly uncomfortable). Today’s experience therefore came as a shock. When Metal Mama clamped the breast which has undergone surgery and radiotherapy, I nearly shot to the ceiling with the pain that sliced through me. But it was short-lived. Metal Mama’s hugs are never longer than about 30 seconds, thank God. Four hugs (two on each breast) and she’s usually done with you. And here came the second unwanted surprise of the day. Metal Mama took my offer of friendship literally. She spat out one of the X-ray images and called me back for one extra hug – the one that hurt most of all.
Last year I received Metal Mama’s verdict the same day, as I was seeing the Consultant straight afterwards. This time I have to wait between a week and ten days for the results. It’s quite weird knowing that Metal Mama knows already if I’m clear of cancer or not. She has my image imprinted on her mechanical brain. I’d love to be able to meet her for a drink in Wetherspoon’s and get her to divulge the results after a triple Vodka. Then Metal Mama might roll along Commercial Road spilling all her secrets throughout High Town. I have a picture of her crashed out in a metal heap, turning up for work later with a thumping hangover and being fired for breaking the code of conduct. But she’s far too professional.
Back to reality. I’m all set for an impatient ten days, wondering what Metal Mama has seen and what she will tell.
Video of a mammogram http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mammogram/MM00639
Information about mammograms and breast cancer http://cancerhelp.cancerresearchuk.org/type/breast-cancer/about/screening/mammograms-in-breast-screening