Monday, August 27, 2012



Note the Smoosh Factor here...

By Terri Lively

For those of you who don’t know, I just turned 40 in June. If you know my kids, however, don’t tell them. I tell them I am 29 and they aren’t good enough at math to figure out how old I really am yet.

Being 40 has a lot of benefits. I haven’t actually experienced any of them yet, but I am certain there have to be some.  Whoops…I lied. I have experienced one of the benefits of turning 40: It beats the alternative.

As fantastic as that benefit is, turning 40 also has a few drawbacks.  I know that’s really hard to believe but it’s true. It all began at my recent annual appointment.

Wait! Pause here for a disclaimer:

Men who read this blog: Proceed with caution. There will be mentioning of lady parts in a clinical, non-sexual way.

Women go to see their gynecologist every year. Usually there is a pap smear, some poking and prodding below the belt, and a breast exam. This is the standard run down, so to speak. When you turn 40, however, they make a change. You now must have a mammogram, too.

My nurse came in to my room and asked me where I wanted to go for my mammogram, Downstairs or Santa Ana. This is a really easy choice. Downstairs is a fancy suite that is decorated like a spa or a beauty salon. I can only imagine what the office in Santa Ana looked like but it would be hard to top this place. I had passed it many times on my way up to his office. Before today, however, I thought it was where you had implants done not where you had them examined.

Downstairs, I answered. She gave me the referral and after my Gyno appointment I went down to the swanky suite to make my mammogram appointment. 

I was greeted professionally and handled graciously. It felt like I was making an appointment at a hair salon. They gave me an appointment card and told me not to wear any deodorant, powder, perfume, or anything other beauty products the day of the exam. Then they smiled at me and sent me on my way. And that was that.

I was nervous when I pulled into the parking lot of the Hoag Medical Center the day of my appointment. I had been here a lot of times, but never for this.  I didn’t know exactly what to expect, although I had a pretty good idea based on movies, friend’s accounts of their experience, and my wild imagination which is hardly ever wrong.

I made my way up to the office/spa and pushed open the large glass door that read West Coast Breast Center in a swirly font. The waiting room is long and narrow with large upholstered chairs with turned legs and fine brocade fabric. The entire wall of glass windows resembled a storefront that faced out into the institutional looking hallway of the medical center. The waiting room had a couple other women there, none of whom looked excited to be there.

After I checked in they handed me a few forms to fill out. They were standard don’t sue us forms and releases allowing the insurance company to pay them. Which I thought was weird. If you have insurance why on earth would you ever mark the box that says, “Insurance company should not pay the doctor”? Anyway, once the forms were done, they whisked me back to a dressing room of sorts.

There were three doors inside the second waiting room. Each one looked like a dressing room booth at a store, except the door went to the floor and instead of fine couture you were trying on a long, shapeless gown. The nurse instructed me to take off everything from the waist up and make sure the gown opened in the front.

Simple right? Not so much. I struggled with the ties on that gown for five minutes. The ribbon was made of a material that is repellant to itself, so every time you tied any of the strings together, they instantly untied. And the gown was one-size-fits-giant so even when it was tied, it wasn’t closed all the way.

After a few minutes, I had rigged the gown closed along the front and gathered my things up to sit down in the adjoining waiting area. I noticed that there was a 8.5 x 11 piece of paper that read in a graceful font to “keep your purse with you at all times.”  That seemed like an odd instruction for such a pleasant font. Had they had a rash of purse theft here at the breast spa? Heeding the sign, I kept mine close.

Before I could even finish looking through my Facebook news feed, the tech showed up to usher me back to my exam. She was my height, had curly blonde hair, glasses and no make up on. She was dressed in blue scrubs and wore Crocs on her feet. When I stood up to greet her, my gown fell open like J Lo’s Versace dress, barely concealing the goods. I closed it quickly, not knowing how soon the illusion of modesty would be destroyed. I followed her down the hall to the exam room, clutching the gown closed the whole way.

My tech was efficient and pleasant enough. Her technique was part booking officer and part Disney Jungle Cruise guide.  She was stern about things like keeping your hands to the side and which way to face, but then she threw in a couple of jokes that you know had been around a while like, “warm body part, meet cold machine” and “Comfort is not a concern for this portion of the exam.”

Those of you who have had a mammogram know that her second comment was no joke. It was an ominous warning delivered in a light-hearted tone.

To summarize my experience, I was surprised by how much smooshing was involved. Here’s how it works. You put your breast up on a little table, with a little help from Officer Friendly (!) who handles you like a steak at Costco. Then she literally puts a clear plastic lid on top of your boob and smashes you flat like a breast Panini sandwich.

I caught a quick, horrified glance at my smashed up boob before I was reprimanded for getting my chin in the shot. And then, when I raised my chin back up, for moving around too much.

The really good news is that you get to do the boob smoosh from two different angles. So far I had seen my boob being mistreated from the top view. Now I got to see it squashed under the glass from the side. This angle is way more uncomfortable, so I was wincing a little and started to squirm and that got me in trouble again.

Between sides, I desperately tried to salvage this experience with a little conversation. Thinking quickly, I asked why we can’t wear deodorant or perfume or anything. She said because it shows up on the image. I thought that was reasonable, if not obvious. But then I learned from a conversation that can only be described as too much sharing that some women get yeast infections under their large breasts during summer months and can’t use anything to treat it before their exams. 


I was sure happy that she used a wipe on the machine after we were done although there was no risk of yeast infection under my rack. Heck, I fail the pencil test!

She told me I was done and said, “See you next year!” on my way out the door. “Every year?” I thought. Goody, goody gumdrops.

All kidding aside, mammograms are really important. Early detection is your best bet for beating for breast cancer. And it can hit anyone, anytime with no history of breast cancer in their family and no behaviors that contribute to it. So while it is not pleasant, it is necessary. And most insurance plans cover them 100%.

So if you haven’t gone yet, go. And be sure to keep your purse with you at all times.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Candy Monster

Few things as a child are more sacred to you than candy. There might be a weird kid here or there that doesn’t like candy, but to most of us, candy was the preferred food group, appropriate for any time of day, number one on our top ten lists, and definitely on the must take items to the desert island. Candy is KING to children. I was no different.

Living down the street from a grocery store has many benefits. One of them is that my house was a ten minute walk to the candy aisle replete with every confectionary masterpiece of the late seventies early eighties era. Reggie bar anyone?

I come from a family of six, four kids over an eleven-year span and two tired-looking parents. We were large, even by Seventies standards, appropriate since my Mom was sort of Mormon and my dad was sort of Catholic. I was the last of the bunch, a full eleven years after my oldest brother. I reaped the benefits of being the youngest and by rights, cutest child of the bunch. *

My older brothers definitely treated me specially. My sister, however, was fair game and got the worst end of their orneriness. She was shot with rubber band guns, startled with firecrackers on the doorframe and badgered to tears every day of her young life. I, on the other hand, enjoyed a status of “off-limits”. No one picked on me because I was too little. 

One evening, my older brothers had made the 10-minute trek up to the store to pick up some candy for themselves. And in an oddly thoughtful gesture, they had picked up candy to share with Traci and I. It’s not to say that my brothers weren’t thoughtful to me, as I mentioned before they were. It’s just that they got candy for Traci too. It seemed odd and even Traci was wary of the offering at first, trying to ascertain how they had booby-trapped it.

The candies offered to us were a pack of Starburst and a Cherry Mash. Most people will recognize the former, but the latter might puzzle anyone whose hometown wasn’t in or around St. Joseph, MO, or isn’t about 150 years old.

Cherry Mash is a chocolate and nut-covered maraschino cherry nougat candy bar the size and shape of a pile of poo. It came in a red and white package that looked old-fashioned, even for 1977. It was old-people candy. If you go to you will see what I mean. In fact, they call it a timeless treasure and brag about making them since 1876. That’s only twelve years after the end of the civil war. In 1876, we still thought leeches were the way to go in certain illnesses….

We were to choose which candy we wanted. As if there were a choice. Any person in their right mind would reach for the vibrant and tangy Starburst over old-person candy in its old-fashioned wrapper. Traci and I were both in our right-minds. And neither of us was willing to relent to the other.

In all fairness to my older sister, as a mother of three, I see how hard it is for the oldest child to get anything in life the way they want it. My oldest child is constantly having to compromise, share, and surrender the toy, the argument, and the floor before the committee. He rarely gets through a day without a bewildered wail of “It’s not fair!” and having to endure another platitude on how life isn’t fair delivered by his father and I.

In his, hers, and every other older child out there’s defense: You are right. It’s not fair. And saying “Life Isn’t Fair” doesn’t help at all, we know.

So this time Traci decided to stick to her guns and fight for her right to the candy she wanted. As a younger child used to getting my way and not really having to campaign for it, I resorted to my most successful tactic --the tantrum.

Mom, who was on to me, cut me off quickly and offered a bargain. How about we flip a quarter for it and see who gets the Starburst?

Traci and I thought this would work. We agreed. Mom grabbed a quarter and let me pick heads or tails. I picked heads. It was tails. Naturally.

Traci snatched up the Starburst and went to join my brothers in the living room to watch TV and enjoy the spoils of her victory. I decided to go back to my original tactic, only now it was a TANTRUM.

In my defense, I didn’t like to lose and hadn’t had a ton of experience with it. I usually got my way. Being on the unfair side of “Life Isn’t Fair” really stunk. I needed to communicate my disappointment so there would be no misunderstanding about my feelings on the matter.

Mom, who was on to me but still trying to use this as a teachable moment, tried to get me to try the Cherry Mash. She opened the old-person candy wrapper and offered the bumpy lump to me. I refused. She tried again and again until finally curiosity got the better of me and I decided to try it. After all, it was candy. How bad could it be?

Bad. Nasty. Nasty-bad.

I spit the bite into the sink with ferocity. TANTRUM was now compounded with outrage that this could be referred to as candy.

Mom, who was on to me and now over it, resorted to her big guns: Guilt.

“Your brothers walked all the way up to the store to bring you candy and this is how you act! How do you think that makes them feel? I am soooo disappointed in you.  You go in there and apologize and then go straight to bed.”

If guilt was a Barrack Buster then I was cave in Afghanistan. In all my tantrum throwing I had never considered how I was making my brothers feel. After all, they did take good care of me. It was really nice of them to bring my sister and I candy. I was acting like a pill and I was ashamed.

Could they help it if they didn’t know about the crispity, chocolaty, carmelly goodness of the Reggie bar? Or the novel delicacy of the stand-out-in-a-world-of-brown, white-fudge dipped Zero bar? Or the flavor burst of goo that gushed from a chomped on piece of Bubblicious bubble gum? If they liked the Cherry Mash, then didn’t I deserve to give it a second chance?

Still Nasty-bad. Spit it out again.

I skulked into the living room and apologized, red-eyed and ashamed. They didn’t seem to care much, gathered in a half-circle, stretched out on their sides on the brown shag carpet engrossed in the M*A*S*H episode flickering across their faces. I did go straight to bed that night, no candy.

My mom’s guilt bomb has left a mark on my heart. For years, it was a moment from my childhood of which I was ashamed. When I thought of it I might actually groan out-loud and scrunch my toes up in my shoes. I felt bad enough about it that I wanted to apologize again years later so I wouldn’t feel guilty about it anymore. I wondered if they always thought of what an ungrateful turkey I was about it when they gave me gifts after that day. I was embarrassed that I had made such a big deal about it at all.

As a mother, I have a new perspective on my bad choice. I am guessing if I mentioned this story to anyone now, they wouldn’t remember it. Or if they did, they wouldn’t have thought of it in years. My kids have had tantrums like this so many times I would have a hard time telling you what triggered one even from a week ago. My brothers probably remember other tantrums that were worse, or louder, or more obnoxious that I forgot.

I suspect that I remember this one because it taught me so much. I was too old to have had such a huge tantrum over the type of candy that someone brought me as a gift.  This incident flashes in my mind whenever I receive a gift I neither want nor appreciate.  The Cherry Mash taught me to be grateful for the gifts that people give me even if they aren’t exactly what you had in mind.

If I could go back in time, I would accept my loss gracefully and thank my brother for the candy he bought for me, as I should have in the first place.

THEN, I would walk myself up to the store and get him a real piece of candy, because the Cherry Mash? Yowsa.

* I can feel my sister getting mad as she reads this. It’s my essay, Traci; I can create the past however I choose.