There have been a few things about my birthday this year that I have found particularly distasteful. The number itself for one thing. It sounds so … mature. I was not ready to turn 38, again, but there I was. Sigh.
At the top of my list of Things to Hate About Being 38 Again was my annual check-up. Plus bone density scan. And blood work. But most especially, bombombooooommm, the mammogram. The battery of grown-up tests started to make me feel more fragile. And I really don’t care for that.
Yolanda the World’s Greatest Technician
We have all heard a million dreadful stories about mammograms. That they are embarrassing. The machines are soooo cold. But most of all, that they hurt. I mean, really hurt. I think I have a pretty high pain threshold. I have survived two C-sections, a million IV’s, and several catheterizations. However, I almost did not survive nursing Bodacious. Boobs are tender, folks.
But, my doctor reminded me that I lost my maternal grandmother to breast cancer, and my paternal grandmother had a lumpectomy to remove a tumor in one of her breasts. So I took my orders for a mammogram home and promised to set up the appointment. You and I both know I didn’t intend to do it.
Several months have gone by and my doctor’s office has called twice to say they have noticed a lack of mammogram results. Sheesh. Okayokayokay.
And no wonder. Did you know this? Breast cancer is the SECOND LEADING cause of death among women! And, breast cancer is three times more common than all gynecologic malignancies combined. So I made my appointment at Allison Women’s Imaging and let the anxiety creep on in. Once I got there for the appointment, I started to feel increasingly antsy. And when they called me back, I had to fight my flight instinct.
So, if you have never had a mammogram before, let me tell you this. Wear pants to the appointment. Preferable spandex or gaucho pants. They look cooler with the floral cape you will wear into the room.
Two, there is no reason to be embarrassed. You’re still going to feel that way, standing in your hot pink rockstar jeans and flip flops, cape tossed casually over a chair. But my awesome technician Yolanda was terrific and had lots of experience. So, I do what I always do when I am nervous, start to make chitchat, ask her about her job, that kind of thing.
“People say to me that they could never have a job where they touched breasts all day,” she tells me. “I tell them I never even think about it that way. It is a body part that needs to be imaged. Mammograms save lives.”
So I am relaxing a little. Yes, it is cold. But it’s really clean and pleasantly decorated. I see bleach wipes so am feeling pretty reassured.
Yolanda is doing a great job of talking me through everything, making sure I am as comfortable as I can be under the circumstances. There are two pieces to the machine, a metal X-ray plate and a thick plastic compression plate. You kind of lean into the plates and they make a boob sandwich. Now, you are going to want to stare in disbelief at the pancake that is now your breast but you need to lift your head, turn your feet, hold your breath.
What? Hold my breath? Wha?? SMASH!
Oh. Okaaaay. That’s not so bad. SMASH. Okaaay. Still not so bad. Readjustments. SUPER SMASH! Holy cow, Bat Man. That one was bad! It is harder to yell when you are holding your breath.
My second tip, after wearing pants, would be to perhaps not schedule your procedure when you have PMS. That’s just extra painful. Eh, live and learn.
The images only take about 20 seconds each, I did four poses. Generally two images are taken of each breast. I felt even better after discovering we are the only two observing these shenanigans. UNLIKE a c-section in a teaching hospital. Circus. The whole process from check-in to walk out lasted about 25 minutes. Not bad at all!
Though I would not describe the experience as pleasurable, it wasn’t nearly the agony I built it up to be in my head. To give you a reference point, I will say that I prefer mammograms to being catheterized. I prefer mammograms to MRI’s, the smell of liver and onions, and I prefer mammograms to having cavities filled.
Current guidelines recommend women have their first mammogram between the ages of 35 and 40, and yearly after age 40. Women with a family history of breast cancer should discuss mammography with their physician who may advise earlier mammograms. So, Woman up and get your girls a mammogram! They can handle it!
For more information, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation at www.nationalbreastcancer.org.