Male Obgyn Gets a Mammogram and How It Made Me A More Compassionate Doctor

A few years ago, I found my own breast mass

As an Obgyn I do breast exams every day, but I never expected to find a mass on myself. When I did, immediate panic set in. Breast cancer is rare in men, but it does happen.

The next morning I had one of my partners repeat the exam to confirm the findings. She placed the order for a diagnostic mammogram like we do every day only this time, my name was in the space labeled PATIENT.

I will just sneak in quietly and anonymously

I arrived at the same women’s imaging center where I refer my patients. As I parked my car, that anxiety hit me in the pit of my stomach. Thoughts of “what if” filled my mind. Could it be cancer? What would I do?

As I mustered up the courage to walk inside, I felt more than simple fear. I felt vulnerable. I opened the door and scanned the room. I quickly noticed I was the only man, but I was greeted by two of my patients who happened to be in the waiting room. So much for anonymity.

As I was checking in, I heard, “Hi Dr. Livingston, it’s nice to see you” from the woman staffing the desk who also happened to be my patient. I am bordering on humiliation at this point. I was then escorted to the back for my mammogram.

It’s tough to stand with dignity in a gown with holes for your breasts

While I removed my shirt it crossed my mind that Poetic Justice was at play. I have ordered thousands of mammograms. Now it was my turn to experience what I ask of my patients. As the technician politely entered the room, I stood tall with an air of false confidence dressed in my hospital scrub pants and a paper top with holes for my breasts.

After exchanging small talk, she positioned my breast into a pancake appropriately for the X-Ray. Having heard from patients that mammograms can be painful, I was prepared for discomfort. While there was no physical pain, I confess to an extreme feeling of helplessness standing shirtless, alone in a room with my left breast compressed in a waffle iron. It was over in seconds, and I was able to get dressed.

Our minds take us to dark places

I sat alone in silence, waiting to hear the results. Intellectually, I knew the odds were overwhelming in my favor that the mass was benign. Still, negative possibilities flooded my thoughts.

My mind immediately went to cancer. I began to plan my last will and testament. I thought through which breast surgeon I would choose, and who I would go see for chemotherapy. Luckily, the doctor quickly reported the mass was benign. No sign of malignancy and surgery would not be necessary.

Leaving the center, I felt relief and compassion

The experience of getting a mammogram made me a better doctor. True, I will never experience giving birth, menstrual cramps or other gynecologic conditions that I treat. But now I have a better understanding of how women feel when they bravely enter those doors for cancer screening.

I also feel compassion for those who exit the doors with unfortunate, life-changing news. I understand the fear and anxiety of going for cancer screening, and now I have a story to share with any patient who is anxious about getting it done.

Most importantly, I feel gratitude not just for my results but also for the science and technology available to diagnosis treatable illnesses. Mammograms save lives.

Thank you to Live Your Life on Purpose for publishing this a article on Medium.

Blog Author: Dr. Jeff Livingston 

Main Blog Photo By:  Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash