We’re worth it: getting my first mammogram as a queer woman
At the beginning of this year BreastScreen Victoria launched the Beautiful Women campaign – aimed at celebrating the beauty and diversity of lesbian, bisexual, trans, and intersex women aged 26 – 76.
And earlier this month, BreastScreen Victoria hosted a ‘Butch Melon Camp’ event for lesbian and bisexual women in Melbourne, particularly targeted butch women, in response to the feedback that this group is particularly under screened.
Lesbian and bisexual women also have higher rates of several known cancer risk factors and are more likely than heterosexual women to have never had a pap smear or mammogram.
The recent event included information and mammograms, and saw all 12 mammogram places booked out and 25 attendees.
One of the attendees, Bree McAullay, wrote about her experience.
My usual – thank god it’s Friday – muse on my morning commute is tempered. Today is different. Today is a day of firsts. Instead of meeting friends after work at the pub to enjoy the footy, I am getting my jugs out for my first ever mammogram.
Today is a first for Breast Screen Victoria (BSV) as well. BSV have exclusively reserved their Rose Clinic in Melbourne for the breast care of lesbian and bisexual women.
Today is the result of the efforts of some incredibly motivated and beautiful human beings and BSV who continue to reach out to the LBTI women to say “we value you, we respect you, and we welcome you”. The purpose of tonight is to help increase breast care awareness for lesbian and bisexual women who are under screened.
The build up to tonight has been fun, caffeine inspired, and relaxed. However right now, at this moment things have gotten real and the nerves have checked in. My friend can obviously sense my nervousness when he playfully asks did you wear a nice bra for the radiographer tonight?
I quickly do a recap in my mind of what I dressed myself in this morning… yes I think so, I reply, although I suspect it won’t be on for long.
Lots of questions are suddenly at the forefront of my mind. How painful will it be? How long does it take to get the results back? What ice breaker do I have for the radiographer when I take off my bra? What if the results are not positive? All valid questions for a first timer I suppose.
I arrive right on time for my appointment together with my support crew, my wife, and friend who also plan to be screened. We are warmly greeted by the fabulous BSV staff. We are introduced to everyone including Doris Whitmore, the acting CEO of BSV and the radiographers.
We take in our surroundings, introduce ourselves to all of the other women who have arrived for the event and instantly admire BSVs new poster featuring Beautiful LBTI women, with photos by Lisa White, The Social Photographer, holding pride of place in the foyer.
The Rose Clinic is busy with women catching up with familiar faces or meeting new likeminded women for the first time. My surroundings no longer feel intimidating instead I feel comfortable and welcome.
My socialising focus quickly shifts as I am asked to complete a form about breast care and family history. Whilst completing the questionnaire I suddenly realise how extremely lucky I am. I am 41 years old with no present health issues and no family history of breast cancer.
For all of the questions I have answered no to, there would be many women who unfortunately answer yes or worse still go undiagnosed because they have never had a breast screen. I realise irrespective of whether it is your first time or your 2 yearly check-up tonight is an important message.
Another first is that I am the first of the women to be screened tonight. I am the woman warming up the machine for all of the other women. My ice breaker better be good.
Whilst I wait to be called into my appointment I am handed a piece of paper which says Rose Clinic 2017 – message to lesbian and bisexual women. The purpose is to capture a message about breast care that we would like to get out there to encourage screening for lesbian and bisexual women.
Before I can give the message any more thought the radiographer calls me in for my appointment.
The radiographer’s name is Monique. I instantly like Monique. She has a booming smile with warm welcoming mannerisms. She introduces herself again even though I already know her name. She acquaints me with the breast screen machine and explains the slow lowering motion of the machine and quick release after the image is taken.
She explains the different angels of images she requires today. Monique explains that she will start with my right breast and then the left followed by images of my lymph nodes on both sides. Monique then summaries the process for getting my results.
Monique reassures me if the pressure is ever too much for me to handle I simply ask her to stop and we take a break. I find the introduction informative and reassuring and liken this to telling a masseuse when the pressure is too hard.
I am then asked to take off all of my top half clothing. I am now conscious as to whether my choice of bra is actually nice. Whilst I undress Monique summarises all of my answers in the breast care/family history form. I confirm my answers are correct to the best of my knowledge.
Monique warms up the machine and her hands, which is possibly the most thoughtful thing a radiographer can do for you when handling breasts. We start with my right breast being lifted onto the scanning area and complete the images as planned.
I had five images taken in total and I estimate each image was roughly a minute. I suspect my appointment went no longer than 10 minutes.
Monique said I did so well for a first timer. At no stage did I have to ask Monique to release the machine. At the end of the screen, Monique asked me how I thought the experience was. I said honestly it was not as bad as I had thought it was going to be. The pressure was not painful. I would describe it more of a squeeze. Instead of a lolly at the end of the appointment you get a two year reminder magnet for your fridge.
Monique calls the next woman in for their appointment. Twelve LBTI women are screened over the next two hours.
I join the women back in the room where everyone is laughing, sharing their messages they have written, and getting their photos taken by photographer Lisa White. My wife and friend ask me how I went. I said honestly it was fine, better than I had anticipated.
I sit down, grab a drink and enjoy some chargrilled haloumi. There are thank you speeches led by Dr Catherine Barrett, Project Coordinator and Director of Alice’s Garage, photos with the Butch is Beautiful social media frame and utter enjoyment of this event in this safe space created for us.
I go through a sample of the messages the women have written to encourage lesbian and bisexual women to get screened. Some capture the like mindedness of our community, ‘tops off all the girls’, while some capture humour, ‘don’t be a boob’.
Some capture the importance perfectly: just do it – we’re worth it.
Bree McAullay is a creative writer, and you can listen to her talk footy as one of the Chicks Talking Footy women on Joy 94.9 at 8pm on Wednesdays.