Tabada: Confessions of a medical tourist

A MAMMOGRAM can be a girl’s best friend.

Ever since I discovered a lump in a breast four years ago, I’ve always treated myself at the end of the year.

While reading reports of horrendous traffic during the weekend opening of the newest mall, I planned the trips I would be taking to visit—who else?—the doctors, medical technicians, clinic receptionists and health maintenance organization (HMO) coordinators that have been part of my Christmas ritual.

I don’t care a hoot about the unpronounceable foreign brands invading Cebu. But I will juggle my schedule, don sneakers for the inevitable walkathon, and read the medical journals, bulletin board notices and conference posters that make the waiting time sprinkling these medical marathons slightly less freaky than a Stephen King novel.

For no matter how skewered a doctor’s sense of time is, how well-aimed a receptionist’s sarcasm, or how stomach-churning the photos of sliced suppurating organs decorating medical journals, knowledge is always better than ignorance.

Certainly, don’t expect bliss.

Four years ago, I discovered the lump, with well-defined borders like a chico seed, while waiting for New Year to roll in. I didn’t realize it then but that breast self-exam (BSE) in the shower was another reason to keep Dumaguete in my list of favorites.

Feeling around or looking at one’s breasts in the mirror helps in the early detection of any change in the breasts or underarm area, which alerts one to possible breast cancer. Early detection increases the chances of survival.

My hands were slippery with soap and water, which made it easier to detect and probe the lump. Still I had to take several cold showers before I could talk to the husband and sons about the lump.

However, it took watching actor Javier Bardem perform self-surgery in the dramatization of Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men” to move me from my BSE moment to keeping an appointment with a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology.

The online references on BSE never mention the denial and prevarication that swamps one after discovery of that wee lump.   On the last day in Dumaguete, while waiting for the bus, I watched Bardem play Anton Chigurh. The maniacal murderer operates on his leg after it’s blasted by a shotgun and then sews up the wound.

I realized I could never be that crazy and looked for a doctor as soon as I returned to Cebu.

Compared to the surprises hidden in magazines lying in wait in doctors’ clinics, mindless movie mayhem has a certain Disneyesque mystique. I’ve sat with women whose major complaint against mammograms is the waiting required in a room with extremely cold air-conditioning.

Cold is an issue. I wish technicians had warmer hands when they’re positioning my breast for a shot with low-dose X-rays. Or that a Pap smear didn’t feel like an entire movie crew, with all the hardware, is filming a Star Wars prequel to the prequel inside my cervix.

Yet, aside from wanting to live, I keep my December dates because my doctor taught me a simple trick for remembering (“time your yearly screening with something that always happens, like Christmas”). Because everyone, from the lab technician to the doctor’s receptionist, checks the database and reminds me of the year I missed.

Because, better than diamonds, a mammogram, Pap smear and other screenings are really a woman’s best friends.

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