It’s not all that common to hear women say they look forward to their annual mammograms.
But when Blanche Holleb, 54, and her mother head out every fall for their appointments, their destination is not a sterile doctor’s office or an antiseptic hospital. Their mammograms are performed on the second floor of Skokie’s Nordstrom store at Westfield Old Orchard.
“It’s something we do every year,” Holleb said last week as she waited in the Women’s Lounge of the Mammography Suite at Nordstrom. You might never know the area is even there — hidden away in a corner behind women’s clothing as it is — except for the fact that NorthShore University HealthSystem has been offering the service for 18 years.
“It’s a much more pleasant experience to be here than it would be in a hospital,” Holleb said. “It’s very un-intimidating. We have lunch and shop and make a day of it.”
This was the idea behind making Nordstrom a venue for mammograms. For the store, it draws shoppers who can have their mammograms and then get on with more fun stuff. For medical practitioners, it inspires women to have mammograms when they might not otherwise do so.
NorthShore University HealthSystem Mammography Technician Deborah Pitrack, who has worked at the store for years, still calls the service a “well kept secret” for many, but it can’t be too much of a secret: As many as 30 to 50 patients have mammograms every day at Nordstrom, almost 8,000 patients a year.
Around Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is in October, is the most popular time for mammograms, she said. On the day the Skokie Review visited, in fact, the suite had 55 appointments lined up.
“Breast cancer awareness being in October always brings a lot of people out around this time,” Pitrack said. “And end of the year, having mammograms for insurance purposes is also a factor.”
But Holleb and her mother, Marlene Solvedt, 80, didn’t have to wait too long when they arrived last week. And the upstairs lounge is pleasant and spacious enough to make the short wait painless.
Holleb, a resident of Northbrook and owner with her husband of Norton’s restaurant and bar in Highland Park, says the outing has become a tradition for her and her mother.
“We have a little lunch, we do a little shoe shopping and all that good stuff,” she said. “We really look forward to it.”
In fact, Holleb has known the women who work at the Mammography Suite for many years. (Pitrack is a relative). They keep in touch on Facebook and always look forward to seeing each other when October or November rolls around.
“After all these years, it’s just a pleasant experience to come here,” she said.
Holleb has always checked out negative in her screenings, but she’s had several friends who have had breast cancer and knows the importance of annual mammograms.
“My friends were detected by having a mammogram initially,” she said. “If they haven’t had that mammogram, two my of my best friends could be in very big trouble. I also was a lymphoma patient, which doesn’t have anything to do with mammograms, but I’m very on top of my health.”
Not every department store offers mammograms — nor does every Nordstrom for that matter.
The Westfield Old Orchard store struck a partnership with NorthShore University HealthSystem when it first opened in 1995 out of a mutual desire to see more women have the procedure done.
The mammography area was first located on the first floor near the cafe. When the store was remodeled in 2008, it jumped to the second floor and was able to accommodate three screening rooms. It also added bone density screenings to its offerings then.
The procedure usually takes no more than 10 minutes, leaving women to enjoy the rest of their day.
“I’ve seen a lot of people come from all over the country to look at our mammography suite,” Pitrack said. “Different doctors have stopped by to see if other places can replicate it.”
Not many have.
One reason for Nordstrom’s mammography area is because it had available space; some stores don’t want to go give up valuable retail real estate.
Anita Zawodniak, assistant vice president for imagining at NorthShore University HealthSystem, knows how successful the Nordstrom venue has been for mammograms.
When setting up the program, she said, NorthShore conducted focus groups and learned that women were nervous about getting mammograms in a hospital. Nordstrom was just opening so NorthShore approached the store with this bold idea.
Zawodniak said the bold idea continues to catch on. Many women diagnosed, she said, tell NorthShore that they never would have had the mammograms if not for this program in this setting.
“Some of those diagnosed have told us this has saved their lives,” she said. “That’s about the best reason for this program that there can be. They love it.”