It started, as it does for thousands of women every year. With a routine mammogram. And its routine process of having my breasts — like a lump of dough — manipulated by another woman’s hands and placed. Albeit gently, into tight compression. It’s never comfortable, but you get used to it because you have to.
Unlike previous years, though, my next step was a biopsy. For which I lay face down, my left breast dangling through a hole in the table. Several hands reached for what’s normally a private and hidden body part and moved it with practiced ease. Compressing it again into position for the radiologist’s needles, first a local anesthetic and then the probes needed to withdraw tissue for sampling.
I was fearful of the procedure and of its result and, to my embarrassment, wept quietly during the hour. A nurse gently patted my right shoulder and the male radiologist, seated to my left and working below me, stroked my left wrist to comfort me. I was deeply grateful for their compassion, even as they performed what were for them routine procedures.
The following weeks gave me a diagnosis with a 98 percent survival rate: ductal carcinoma in situ, a condition that is not even considered a cancer by some. The diagnosis began a disorienting parade of more unfamiliar people touching my body, from routine blood drawing to a transvaginal probe (to determine my baseline uterine condition because estrogen inhibiting drugs can cause uterine cancer), to injecting a tiny electromagnetic wave device into my breast to guide the surgeon to the tumor’s exact location.