A robot nurse with red eyes is writing notes on a clipboard while a silhouette of a patient on a hospital bed is curled up and defeated in the background.

I Am More Than a Set of Protocols

Recently, I underwent a breast mammogram and ultrasound on my right breast, due to some skin changes occurring in the last few months. On and off, but particularly after showering, I had noticed some dimpling and puckering in my breast tissue, some redness, and quite a bit of nipple inversion. This is the breast with my primary tumor, and my oncologist wanted some more information at what might be going on. I had not had a mammogram or ultrasound since my original breast cancer diagnosis in November 2017.

Questions and assumptions

Immediately upon entering the mammogram room, the tech began to fire questions at me. Why was I was not having both breasts scanned? When was my last mammogram? I was taken aback at her questions and answered that my last one was November 2017. She pursed her lips and responded that I should be better about yearly screenings and that I had waited too long in between mammograms. My jaw dropped open. The tech continued on, informing me that I was too young to require mammograms, and, before I could respond, left the room to clarify the orders for testing with the staff radiologist. When she returned a few minutes later, she finally glanced at my chart, and proceeded without an apology, a concession, or acknowledgment of her errors.

Please consult my chart

I shifted in my chair, uncomfortable, and ready to be done with the entire thing. The tech finally turned to me, and, still not making eye contact, asks if I could possibly be pregnant, and the date of my last menstrual period. I informed her that, no, I could not be pregnant. She asks again for the date of my last period. I responded to her that my last period was in January 2018, that I have had a total hysterectomy, and that for any more information, she can consult my chart. I felt my heart pounding as I became more upset - despite being in menopause for over 18 months, my infertility was still a raw wound. The tech replied tersely that all of these questions were mandatory, and began to put a lead apron around my abdomen, as standard procedure for anyone of child-bearing age. Tears continued to well into my eyes.


After the mammogram was finished, the tech led me to a waiting area populated with several other women clad in ill-fitting hospital gowns. Wordlessly, she turned on her heel and left, while I looked around at the other women sitting in the room. I felt so out of place in that room, like a fraud. I was not used to the typical routines of breast screening, and couldn’t stop replaying the one-sided conversation with the tech. I was in disbelief at her ignorance and tried to accommodate her rudeness. Perhaps she was having a bad day or was struggling in her own way at a young, metastatic woman in her exam room. Perhaps her rudeness was her coping mechanism, and she lacked the energy to further engage in the potential sadness and difficulty of living with breast cancer. I will never know. Although I know that I am more than a set of protocols, a pair of breasts to be positioned, imaged, then dismissed, it did not feel like it that day. And sadly, I know it will not be the last time that happens.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to share that on Sunday, March 29, 2020, Emily Garnett passed away. We know that Emily's advocacy efforts continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.

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