Julia M. Dendinger
News-Bulletin Assistant Editor

Almost as soon as I got in the room, I had to pee.

I’d done the “go before you leave the house thing,” but my bladder wasn’t having it. There I was, outfitted in a cape type thing, complete with pink flowers, waiting for a technician to come in and compress some of my body parts.

I tried to distract myself by looking at the equipment in the room. That was a mistake.

The machine looked like a slightly paler, friendlier version of the “Aliens” queen. A large, rounded “head” with the word Fujifilm printed on it stared at me.

Below that was a clear tray with soft pink rubber across the front and at the corners. Beneath that, a hard slab of what looked like black rock.

This is fine, I told myself, totally fine. My bladder objected again.

I took a picture of the behemoth and posted it on Instagram, because that’s how we process things now, right? I even took a selfie with it and texted it to my best friend.

After what seemed like an eon, the technician came in, smiling and professional. She maneuvered me right up next to the lovely “Alien” queen and uttered the phrase, “OK, now I’m going to position your breast.”

Yep, yeah, OK, let’s do that. So she positioned it on the black slab, and adjusted it a bit. Then a bit more. And once more.

I avoided eye contact and hummed snippets of songs in my head. Then the clear tray with the pink rubber descended, flattening out my breast. The technician tightened it down manually with a couple turns of the knob.

She told me to look to the side and keep my chin clear of the moving head as it took the first image for my very first mammogram.

The process was repeated on my other breast and I admit, I gave a sigh of relief.

“OK, now we need to do the side views.”

Ummm … what now? OK, yeah, I can totally do this.

She tilted the table almost 45 degrees from it’s original horizontal position. This time it took a bit more maneuvering to get me placed correctly.

I had to raise my arm, grip a handle and kind of drape myself across the machine. Oh, yeah, and keep my face out of the way as the imaging thing passed by.

The finagling of body parts was repeated for the other side and just like that, it was done.

As I got dressed, happy to be freed from the awkward, flowery cape, I kind of wondered what I’d been so anxious about.

Since my 20s, I’d been hearing about mammograms. How horrible and awful they are. The pain and discomfort was rumored to be just the worst.

But honestly, it wasn’t for me. Is this something I’ll do for fun on a monthly basis? Decidedly no. In total, each scan took about 30 seconds. So four scans, two per breast, is two minutes. Two and a half, tops.

Are those two minutes more painful for other women? Without a doubt. We’re all built differently and experience discomfort and pain in a different way. But two minutes is doable ladies — very doable.

I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family so I’m not anticipating anything bad from the test. Since this was my first mammogram, a baseline, the technician did tell me I might be asked to come back for additional imaging to get a better idea of what was normal for me.

“Don’t freak out,” was her advice.

I think I can do that. Or not do that. You know what I mean.

I do have some things I need to watch — my blood pressure and the whole diabetes thing. I recently had a diabetic eye exam for the first time. The doctor found minor cataracts, most likely due to previously not having my blood sugar under control.

That’s not great, but now I know and can do better with managing my diabetes. Just because I feel OK day-to-day doesn’t mean I’m not damaging my body.

When I posted on Facebook about the mammogram, many of my friends chuckled and reminded me of my imminent colonoscopy. I have such good friends.

Many of these screenings, much like life, are awkward, embarrassing and a bit uncomfortable. I don’t know anyone who is enthusiastic about being probed.

But at the end of the day, they need to be done, so go get yourself checked out, squeezed, scoped, turn your head and cough. Whatever it is, it’s just for a moment.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.