Editor’s Note: Marty Weintraub, an entrepreneur, author, speaker and musician, came to Mayo Clinic in 2015 for a mammogram after noticing a lump on his chest. He wrote a compelling account of the experience on his blog, and gave us permission to repost his story.
From a San Francisco truffle shop to an upscale St. Paul grocery store, I’ve been writing to share inspiration at the intersection of life experiences and my chosen profession, marketing. So it is with a keen eye, open heart and tuned ear I travel the world day-by-day, camera in hand.
Who would have thought we would unearth profound lessons of empathy, immediately transferable to life and career, following an unexpected health issue and resulting treks to the Mayo Clinic. The experience I am about to share will have an indelible impact on me as a man and a marketer.
Mayo Clinic is a shining city of healing and light. Each year more than a million precious human spirits find their way to Mayo for care. Patients flock from all 50 American states and 140+ countries, driven on a highly personal mission of body, soul and heart. The 6,600 staff physicians, scientists, residents and fellows across multiple campuses see most diagnoses over time.
Mayo helps to soothe nervous visitors with its international-class artistic aesthetic. Patients and care givers experience everything from Warhols to the carved mother-of-pearl box and book donated by King Hussein and Queen Noor of Jordan. Suspended from the Gonda Building great room ceiling looms a staggeringly beautiful, Chihuly glass installation. Beauty engulfs the visitor, easing fears and concerns – if even for a few minutes.
I found a lump and followed it to Mayo last week. Dr. Loni Neal, consultant at Mayo’s renowned Breast Clinic examined me. I’ll never be the same for the power of this kind healer. Dr. Neal is effectually a shaman, possessing an uncanny propensity to analyze available data and reasonably project future results.
Mayo’s Breast Clinic is primarily a woman’s place. A small percentage of patients visiting Dr. Neal are male. She laid hands, studying much of my body in intimate detail to keep the greater picture in mind. For a minute I felt extraordinary, as if I were cool enough to be a woman. Dr. Neal believes doctors can help diverse populations and individuals understand their place. In this case, I was a male in a place of goddesses.
I was out of place and felt it. She welcomed me. I was a man grappling with the thought of breast cancer, presenting distinctive circumstances. Dr. Neal patiently studied me from the inside out, obviously committed to understand unique needs at hand.
At first I felt palpable trepidation. It’s true. Cancer (years back) turned out to be the blessed Genesis of so many amazingly positive mashups of life and career. Still I admit I’m afraid.
Checking in at Mayo Gonda 2 South, the desk nurse was clearly able to sense fear and alleviate apprehension in others, speaking in measured, methodical tones.
Female patients at Mayo Breast Clinic are usually routed to a good size community waiting room, pausing in gowns with lovely sisters of all ages. Men are cordoned off to a private room for obvious reasons to honor mutual modesty and societal norms.
I tunneled into my phone, surfing, working through a slight stress headache, reaching out to others to help get me by. I felt alone and worked to regulate emotions. Another nurse stopped by, asking questions about the lump’s history. She had an amazing capacity to make others feel safe in light of the unknown.
Fighting anxiety by breathing in, “Wise” and out, “Mind” then counting down by nines, I knew patience in light of challenge is often in order.
Tammy King, radiologic technician in the Breast Imaging Center, prepped me for the tests. I focused on her gentle direction, the sweet Midwestern lilt in her voice. Tammy was SO incredibly there with me, for me, it was clear something extraordinary was about to occur. The digital mammography machine tech is not the story. Humanity is the story.
Explicit targeting is crucial. I helped Tammy locate and mark the lump. I cried softly, feeling confident, vulnerable and desperate all at the same time. I wanted to be held.
Tammy helped me to the mammogram machine, offering precise instructions, physical guidance and positioned my body. I submitted to her gentle strength and let this powerful nurse guide me, knowing, understanding her goal, manipulate to serve.
First positioning my right arm and then firmly, lovingly and painfully compressing breast tissue I did not know I had. Being male, the pain was not as difficult as described to me by women. The lesson, however, was obvious. Walk a mile in another’s shoes.
Tammy became my teacher. Remember, this was my first, hopefully only male mammogram ever. She put her arm around me to offer support and validation. I’d never been held by a nurse or doctor like that, full body, feeling her warmth connected to my core, plutonic, maternal, professional, extraordinarily comforting, one of the richest moments of my life.
Tammy checked the images and consulted with a radiologist. The picture below was shot from behind the control room glass and shows imaging of my breast. I struggled to keep things in perspective.
I got dressed and headed out via Mayo’s underground subway mall. I lingered to enjoy original lithographs from Andy Warhol’s famous “Endangered Species” series, decompressing from fear to artistic wonder. I thought, “Remember to breathe.” Yes, remember to breathe and feel gratitude.
Per tradition before leaving Mayo Clinic on this day, I stopped for a bite at Daube’s Down-Under bakery, ordering soup and a red velvet cupcake. It seemed important to take time and keep loved ones up to speed, express gratitude and I made a couple of calls. Yep, sure I was eating, and there was SO much more … nourished inside body, heart and soul of this again-humbled man, this mammogram-male-of-the-day.
As a man and marketer, I was blessed with yet another thought-provoking experience at Mayo. Lesson learned – genuine empathy eases fears, defeats objections and leads us to an amazing experience, regardless of circumstances.
I should note the results from my male mammogram came in a few minutes ago; no sign of malignancy. Thank you so much to the powerful women who touched my life over the last two weeks.
Pictures by Joe Thornton & Marty Weintraub