If WomanLab were a baby, we would buy her a smash cake; if she were my dog, I would bake her a peanut butter and carrot muffin. (For the record, I don’t bake. That’s how big of a deal this is.)
Yes, it’s true. WomanLab is one year old! While we didn’t birth her per se, this site has been a labor of love, which is why turning a year old is a big deal. It’s poignant, really, because it’s just as much a celebration of survival as it is life. With a baby it’s: “You’ve survived a whole year on 4 hours of sleep. Congrats!”; with WomanLab it’s: “You’re now at more than 15,000 users in a year. Congrats!”; with my breasts it’s: “Your masses haven’t grown. Congrats!”
One whole year ago, I went in for my annual exam and I was given a referral for my third mammogram. Sure, it isn’t my favorite activity, but with my family history of breast cancer, I gotta get the girls checked out, ya know? One whole year ago, I got the call from my doctor that they found two masses in my left breast. “Are you sure?” I asked as I fumbled with my shirt trying to see what she was talking about. “Um, listen, I literally have my hand on my boob right now. I don’t feel anything.” Ah the joys of dense breast tissue. (Read: Fat.)
“Yes, I’m sure,” my doctor said. I swear I could hear her rolling her eyes. “So what does this mean?” I asked with my shirt around my neck and hand still firmly planted on my left breast. “We have to run some more tests. I’m putting in the referrals now.”
Awesome. Great. I thought to myself. Literally launching a site about sex and cancer at work and here I am with two little friends (I didn’t know what else to call them), hanging out on my left side.
So I did what I do best. I went shopping with my BFF CapitalOne.
Our team soft launched the site on Thursday, August 17th, on Friday, August 18th I bought myself a new bra—thanks, CapitalOne—and that Saturday, August 19th I went in for a breast MRI.
I can’t lie. It was not one of my finest moments. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of a breast MRI, let me walk you through it. It’s just like an MRI (so if you’re claustrophobic, good luck), but you lie on your stomach à la Super Woman with your arms stretched out in front of you, and your breasts placed gingerly into two holes in the table. Now, you may be asking, “But Megan, how do your breasts get in there?” Great question. The nurse (god love nurses, they are not paid enough money in the world to have to do what they do), named Barbara, literally takes your breasts while you are on all fours and holds on to them while you lower yourself down. When you are lying on your stomach, Barb (that’s what you call her—she’s holding your boobs, you guys are on a nickname-basis now) adjusts your breasts so they are free falling just-so.
Imagine a plank, but topless, and a stranger, who you no longer consider a stranger because she’s doing something you didn’t even let your husband do on the first date, holds your breasts so they get to the right spot. Oh, and don’t forget you have an IV in your arm so Barb can put in contrast solution to better see your friends. There I was, Super Woman with her boobs-in-the-hole, hooked up to an IV that, let’s be honest, left a bruise, and bzzzzzzz the table backs up into the tube. And you have to lie very still. Don’t. Move. A. Muscle.
The MRI felt like hours, lying flat on my stomach trying not to focus on the pain in my ribs (because, hello, ribs on hard plastic feel exactly how you imagine). I’m a storyteller (exaggerator) by nature though, so it was probably, at most, 15 minutes. The familiar bzzzz of the table moving back out provided little relief. I didn’t think it was possible to sweat through my pants while doing nothing but lying still. The stress of the MRI proved me wrong though—it was as if I stepped out of the shower.
So imagine being topless, drenched in sweat, unable to get up because you’re connected to an IV and you’re not sure what’s the best first step. Modesty is gone. Barb has seen you.
Sweet Barb helped me up and out of my boob holes, down the step ladder, and as I stood there gathering my senses, she gently took off the tissue paper that used to cover the MRI table, but was glued to my body from the copious amount of sweat pouring out of me. I was in a daze. I followed her back through the hallways, now in that all too familiar hospital gown, back to the changing room where my husband was diligently waiting outside. He had no idea what Barb had accomplished in 30 minutes. If I wasn’t so drained, I would have made a joke about him taking some tips from her.
In the changing room, I strapped on that new bra, which suddenly irritated me. Why are bras SO expensive? Half the population needs these contraptions because we have breasts—they are a part of my everyday dress—and I felt taken advantage of. The bra company; the MRI; poor, sweet Barb that picked tissue paper off my nipple—these unrelated, seemingly innocuous things were unwittingly a part of one of the most intimate experiences of my life, without my permission, and it was suddenly too much. I cried. And not soft, cute tears, but Kim Kardashian ugly tears.
Fast forward a year and, much like the site, my health has been a labor of love. My two friends are still hanging around in the left breast, but I’m now required to get ultrasounds every 6 months for the next 3 years. The mammograms, ultrasounds, and tests have been a way to hit pause on everything. I’ve been engrossed in it all, but the reality is simply that it’s been the first time in a long time that I’ve been forced to pay attention to my body. The previous two mammograms didn’t turn anything up, so they were a part of my checklist, and I moved on. I’ve survived a year of constant doctor appointments and trying to reframe what control means. My breasts are complicated—they are the source of my mother’s death, the body part that I ignore the most and, over the last year, also take the most pride in.
The bigger of my two breast friends (pun intended), now fondly named Barb, remains the size of a golf ball and no, I still can’t feel either of them on my own because… #densebreasts.
So, when I offered to do a year in review about WomanLab, I was initially excited about walking you all through the many iterations and thoughtful conversations that went in to every choice on the website. We did a lot to get this thing up and running with our amazing partner, Firebelly, our patient advisors, and our voice consultant, Deborah Siegel. We’ve already expanded our content to include Sex and Menopause, our team continues to grow, and we keep talking about the really hard stuff.
What came out though was something a little more intimate—something I never talk about—but I think it’s because this is a platform that gives voice to the hard topics. It encourages conversations about things that aren’t normally talked about. It normalizes sex and menopause… and yes, Barb helping you into boob holes.
So, I’d like to thank WomanLab for this small piece of the Internet giving women hope and a platform to talk about hard things. I can’t wait to see what year 2 has in store.
Edited by Leilani Douglas.