Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Howdy, "Mamm!"

The joys of womanhood are many! Not only do we enjoy monthly mood swings accompanied by our most womanly experience, but we get to birth babies and endure medical examinations beyond our wildest imaginations as well.

Recently, I was introduced to the mammogram. My doctor recommends a baseline test at the age of 35 so our meeting was well overdue. The Breast Center at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis was beautiful, warm, comforting. I felt at home instantly. The staff was kind, which helped ease my anxiety tremendously.

After registering, I disrobed from the waist up, pulled on a gown and waited in a private waiting room. They had two machines running so people moved quickly in and out of the examination rooms. Finally, it was my turn.

As I entered the dimly lit room, a woman greeted me and there… standing before me… was the mammogram machine. She was tall and seemingly powerful, made of steel. Although, I was a bit afraid of her, I admired her for I knew that she had probably saved many lives before me.

Before we could even get acquainted, the technician pulled down one side of my robe and jammed my left breast into the machine. Shocked, I didn’t really know quite what to say. The woman pulled and pushed and maneuvered my breast, forcing it to fit onto the x-ray plate. Scurrying behind a little wall, she shouted, “DON’T BREATHE!” and pushed the x-ray button. Holding my breath, I worried that this monstrous machine was smashing my full & voluptuous breast into a pancake-like form.

“Oh shoot!” the woman said as she reappeared.

“What’s wrong?” I gasped.

“Oh nothing,” she explained. “I just didn’t get the inside part of your breast.”

She proceeded to explain that my breasts were too wide for the x-ray plate. SERIOUSLY? I know a lot of woman with bigger boobs than me. You’d think by now they’d be able to accommodate us all. Perhaps interchangeable plates are in order here. Sized to fit!

Then, suddenly, in one fell swoop, the woman stuck her arm under both of my breasts, lifted them up and placed them in the machine. If one boob didn’t fit in there, how exactly were we going to get TWO in the machine?

“Cleavage shot,” she said.

Ah! That explains it…

Eight shots later, my first date with the mammogram machine was over. I was a little sore on the drive home but the tugging and pushing was well worth it.

Over the last year, a close friend of mine has battled breast cancer. The cancer was discovered during a routine mammogram that she almost didn’t get. EVERY WOMAN SHOULD GET A MAMMOGRAM. They save lives.

A week later, my results came in the mail. And I am free and clear. Until next year… when she and I meet again.

Monday, February 12, 2007


In a couple of weeks, I will celebrate my 36th birthday. Never before have I been embarrassed about my age. But in this moment, just days before hitting my life’s next milestone, I can barely say it out loud. I’m not only in my mid-30’s but I am also closer to 40.

I don’t know what 36 is supposed to feel like. I don’t know what 36 is supposed to look like. I cannot quite grasp how 36 is supposed to act or sound or think. But I know with every fiber of my being that in spite of my myriad of experiences and the years I have left behind, I do not feel 36 years old.

Childhood seemed to last an eternity. I couldn’t wait to grow up. My teen years seemed to be merely an obstacle to my ultimate goal: adulthood. Then, it hit. Like a high-speed locomotive racing up hill… Adulthood… Some time after I got my first quarter of a century under my belt, the speeding train peaked and it was down hill from there. The years seem to fly past. Some days, I wake up and wonder where all that time between 25 and 35 went.

I’m not haunted by regret but I am saddened by my reckless disregard for time and my failure to savor the moment.

There’s an old American Indian saying that says a traveling warrior should spend 5% of his time looking back to where he came from (so he never forgets how to get home), 5 % of his time looking ahead to his future (so he will reach his destination) and 90% of his time focusing on the present moment (so he doesn’t miss a step and fall of a cliff in the process).

As I approach this 36th birthday, I vow to take my time, to drink in each experience, swish it around in my mouth and taste it fully. I will no longer gulp down the days. As I assess my surroundings, I will commit them to memory. The people, the places, the things… I will burn them in my mind. Whether I am 36 or 106, I will not live the life I am supposed to nor feel my age nor act my age nor sound nor think nor be embarrassed about my age. I will live life to the fullest, seizing opportunity and writing my story along the way.

And when my final year has come and gone, I will have a great story and a very happy ending.

An American Story

The American flag represents more than just the country in which we live. It represents the freedoms that we have fought for as a people, the freedoms that men & women are still fighting for. The flag embodies the loss of thousands of lives throughout history, the blood and the tears that were shed, in the battle to maintain those freedoms.

It is a reminder of what we have been through and it is a sign of hope for the future. The American flag represents hope and faith for others who do not have the freedoms that we enjoy. But most importantly it symbolizes a strong and mighty and proud people. The American people…

And the anthem that we sing while standing and facing that flag is a tribute to all that it stands for.

The anthem is more than a song. It is a story. It is the story of thousands of soldiers; it is the story of innocent lives lost in various conflicts; it is your story; it is my story. It is OUR story.

Telling that story is an honor. This year marks twenty years since I stood before a crowd of over 10,000 people and performed the United States National Anthem for the first time.

Every time I sing it, I remind myself of the privilege bestowed upon me when they hand me the microphone. And beforehand, every time, I pray that I will do the anthem justice. Respectfully, I sing. Not boastfully or brazenly… Not drawing attention to myself… But focusing on the flag and keeping in mind all the people it represents.

The commercialization of the National Anthem by professional sports teams sickens me. SELLING the right to sing the National Anthem, in my mind, is wrong. While I believe that every American should know the words and should sing along. There is certain reverence that I believe should accompany such a tribute and that is lost on many anthem singers.

The networks that broadcast the games are far too dismissive with regard to the anthem as well, playing only a portion or none at all. Immediately following 9/11, the networks jumped onboard the PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN bandwagon and played the entire anthem. But over the years, that has drastically tapered off.

Throughout the United States, divisions still arise in various forms of bigotry. Situations occur that pit different groups of people against one another. Strife exists. There is unfair treatment. There is poverty. There is sickness. There is misunderstanding and apathy and overwhelming indifference.

But these are the United States of America… And for each of us, there is a moment in time that defines who we are as Americans. For some of us, every time we see the flag or sing the anthem, we have that moment.

On September 11, 2001, I had my first real moment. That day defined American pride for many people. It was a moment shared by many. And I never sang the anthem the same way after that day. I sat down and re-evaluated our National Anthem. I read the words out loud over and over again. And I realized that the most important part of the story for me was that after the struggles, bombs bursting in the air, the fight to stay alive… When the smoke cleared, a reminder of what we had been through, the sign of hope for the future, the representation of the strong, the mighty and the proud was still there.

“Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave? Or the land of the free! And the home of the brave!”