Three Friends, The MammoVan and The Flat Tire


Men think it’s weird when women go to the ladies’ room in groups.

Men may think it even weirder that I go with two friends each year to get our mammograms.

We call it the “MammoVan.”

Let me clarify  – the three of us travel together in one car but we have separate mammograms in consecutive appointments. Even the most advanced imaging machine can only accommodate two breasts at a time.

The three of us – Martha, Liz and I went to the same college and ended up in the DC area. All lawyers but not the boring kind.

We became friends before our breasts did.

Somewhere in her 30’s Martha developed breast cancer (she’s fine now but pretty religious about keeping it that way, as you can imagine). And Liz, somewhere in her 40’s, discovered the BRCA gene ran in her family so she got the same religion.

Me? My breasts have been the healthiest part of my body so far.

Fortunately, another college friend of ours, Dr. Linda, is an expert radiologist with her own practice less than an hour from DC devoted solely to breast imaging. Picture a spa-like setting with plush robes, soothing music and soft colors on the walls together with cutting-edge digital technology. The best part is that all of her patients get the results directly from her that same day. No waiting a week to get a letter in the mail with scary words like “dense tissue” or “ductal.”

If you might be expecting bad news, what better way to take it in than with close friends?

That was the idea that launched our now annual MammoVan.

On our first visit Dr. Linda showed us around her new digs. In the darkened room where she reviews the images that look like white squiggles with a few bright dots on a blurry field she displayed three of our latest studies.

Liz innocently asked Dr. Linda – “Whose image is whose?”

Dr. Linda very sweetly answered:

Can’t you tell? Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear.”

Perhaps TMI but let’s just say that the three of us have differing physical characteristics of our upper torsos.

This morning we set off for our annual visit in the MammoVan (a/k/a Martha’s car.) Halfway there, while on a highway with trucks whizzing past us, we started to hear a clinking sound. Liz, the car expert, confidently announced that was a tailpipe that had come loose. The ridiculous potholes we have had this winter have done their damage. But as the tailpipe clinking become a louder, more clunk-a-clunk sound, Martha guessed correctly, the car had a flat tire.

We pulled over to the side of the highway.

(I was silently cheering. Surely it will take hours for the road service to come and install the spare tire? Yay, we will miss our mammogram appointments!)

No such luck.

While Martha called for help, I noticed that we had pulled over on an overpass precisely between the National Security Agency (barbed wire all around) on one side of the road –  and some kind of penitentiary (more barbed wire) on the other.

Yup, we and our breasts were stuck between two heavy and ominous places already – and we hadn’t even made it to Dr. Linda’s office.

Sadly, the roadside assistance arrived promptly and quickly put on the spare tire. Liz impressed me by knowing the location of something called a lug nut. And when I called Dr. Linda’s office, her receptionist told me she was able to squeeze us in (the squeezing thing!) even if we arrived late.

30 minutes later –  for the benefit of any men still reading this, the following occurred:

1. I took off my bra and sweater and put on a fluffy blue robe, then was escorted into a room with the giant machine.

2. I took off the fluffy blue robe.

3. While standing in front of the giant machine, a technician with a very soothing voice guided me into proper placement upon a solid glass plate onto which my breasts, first the left, then the right, got squished between the solid glass plate and a sledgehammer appearing device which came ever so gently slamming down on the top.

4.  “Hold your breath!”

5. The technician moves away behind the screen. A few buttons are touched.  I breathe again. Unsquished.

6. Then, while staring at a lovely painting of a calming flowers, I was repositioned to stand with my side to the machine. Again, the right, then the left, or maybe it was the other way around.

7. Squash, “Hold your breath!”, squash again, squeeze, more breath holding. Breathe.

8. Done.

It wasn’t so bad at all. I’ll take a mammogram over dental work anytime.

And then, one at a time, we take turns going into Dr. Linda’s office where each of us was told:

You look fine, you are good to go until next year.”

Good news: our breasts are healthy as is our friendship.

If you don’t have a MammoVan in your life, may I suggest you get one? And bring someone along who knows where the lug nut is kept.


Filed under College, Female Friends, friendship, Lawyers, Men vs Women, Midlife, Women, Women's Health

12 responses to “Three Friends, The MammoVan and The Flat Tire

  1. Glad you are good for another year! Great suggestion to go with friends. It always makes me laugh when they say stop breathing as if in that position you could take a deep breath!


  2. Stephanie

    Ah, I just had mine a few days ago, and I so appreciate your amusingly accurate description of the process. I see the enormous value in your Mammovan – as lovely and smart and considerate as my tech was, it was just me, no bosom (!) buddies, no fluffy robe, no spa-like atmosphere, and no direct feedback from the radiologist. Viva la Mammovan; glad to hear it all went well. Except for the flat tire – a metaphor, perhaps, for the disturbingly two-dimensional mammogrammed breast?


  3. Martin Wolf

    Nancy—-I loved this blog. Your sense of humor leaps off the page. I thought it had a lot of important info and conveyed a much needed message. So you’ve found a new career. Have you heard the great news about Dana—-accepted to Mt. Holiyoke.(sp?) She’s ecstatic.   Hinda


  4. claudiaschmidt2013

    So glad you’re in the clear and the trip with your friends sounds like a great idea! Having someone along on any nerve-wracking adventure (health related or otherwise) is always a good thing.


  5. What a terrific idea for a sucky day! I’m sure that it makes it much more fun flat tire or not!


  6. If this isn’t a perfect example of true friendship I don’t know what is! Sharing now!


  7. rooseveltislandlady

    In Manhattan our facilities are tight, cramped, busy and far from spa-like.
    But, our radiolgists and staff are pros!
    Can we convince the guys to get into the cars and go for check-ups? Would have to promise a Bud 6 pack afterwards!


  8. The mammovan chronicles, sounds like a funny trip at least. I thought at one point, when stopped between two barbed wire locations, the story would end differently. So glad it all worked out in the end.


  9. Loved it. No question friends make mammos or cancer or almost anything a better experience. My friends in our adopted town of Orange, VA brought me 9 different hats from the beach trip I missed when I was in the chemo chair in 2009. Each one with a funny story and a reason why they thought that particular hat was perfect for my personality. Of course, by the end of the visit I was crying, they were crying and with my wonderful friends surrounding me dying didn’t seem so terribly awful. I’d had a wonderful life, thanks to their wit, warmth and wisdom. You caught it just right, and it does always amaze me which friend is the exact expert you need at any particular moment of crisis. Someone’s watching out for women when He gives us those kinds of remarkable friends.


  10. Judy the sister

    Love the blog –especially the photo choices!! pleasae write back and I’ll let you know if I get it and then we can delete this ! 🙂


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