If you’ve never had a mammogram, the breast cancer screening test might seem a bit daunting. Not only can it be nerve-wracking to consider what the series of X-rays might find, you may have heard that mammos are painful. Or maybe you’re uncomfortable disrobing in front of a stranger, no matter how professional.
That’s why we asked six women to tell us what their very first time was like. Reading their experiences below might make you feel a bit more prepared before your own first appointment.
"It wasn't as bad as I was expecting"
“I remember my mother saying that if men had to have mammograms, there surely would have been a more comfortable process invented. I had heard jokes about lying down on the driveway and having someone run over your breast–and it was like that! I think because of my mother’s reaction though, I was kind of prepared, so it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I’ve found it gets easier with age, as breasts get less dense. And sometimes the technician makes a difference.”
"The worst was what happened after the scans"
“During my breast exam at my last annual check-up, I mentioned to my doctor that about two months earlier, I had woken up one morning with a stain on my pajamas, around my left breast. It had only happened that one time, and I wasn’t too worried—but the look on her face told me I should be.
A week later I had my first mammogram. It wasn’t so much painful as uncomfortable. But the worst was what happened after the scans. The technician disappeared. For a long time.
I had left my phone in a locker with my clothes and other belongings, so I sat in the room in my gown, distraction-free, for what seemed like ages, with the worst-case scenario playing out in my head. I imagined the technician had seen something terrible on the scans and left to find the radiologist to break the news to me gently.
When she finally came back, she told me that whenever a woman has nipple discharge, they do an ultrasound in addition to a mammogram as a matter of course. My primary care physician had simply forgotten to order the ultrasound. So the tech had been trying to arrange it. That was all. I had my sonogram, and then the radiologist came in to tell me the results of both tests were normal.
I wish I had known in advance that they planned do both tests—or that I had asked the tech where she was going when she left the room. It would have made the whole experience less stressful.”
"I didn't know the exact steps"
“I was 40 when I had my first mammogram, and I had really only heard what it would be like from what my mom shared. I knew what would generally happen, but I didn’t know the exact steps for it. I did know the technician would need to view all angles of my breast–which did happen. I was nervous because I thought it would be painful; it was a little uncomfortable, but not really painful. The technician was very gentle and extremely friendly, which helped me relax.”
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"It was only a little uncomfortable"
“I was nervous, but I found out that my neighbor Jackie did mammograms at the hospital by me. When I made my appointment, I requested Jackie and told the woman scheduling the appointment that I’m a friend of hers. I remember the woman said, “Jackie is the best! She does all of the staff’s mammograms!” That made me feel great.
Jackie was indeed awesome; it was only a little uncomfortable. I have dense breasts and also had an ultrasound. I’ve had a few now, and the only bad thing about them is it takes a whole freaking day. The waiting for the results is a little nerve-wracking too.”
"The waiting room felt like I could be at a spa"
“I was sent for a mammogram at 36 following an annual check-up with my gynecologist. My mom had just survived breast cancer and my paternal grandmother had survived it once but died of metastatic disease 30 years later.
I remember thinking the waiting room felt like I could be at a spa. We were all wearing ill-fitting robes and thumbing through magazines–but we were distracted and definitely not looking forward to a massage.
I wasn’t scared–until I was called back for a second scan. The technician just stated simply that she needed to take more images. I was worried. I remember being upset that she didn’t acknowledge that I was probably terrified. I’ve had a few more mammograms since, and I’m still waiting for an empathetic technician.”
"I felt a lump–but I was not scared."
“I had my very first mammogram when I was about 23, and not because that is routine, but because I felt a lump. I was not scared at all–I thought absolutely nothing about it. I did not for a second think I had breast cancer. But it was so uncomfortable. My breasts were smashed in a cold, hard machine and pushed by a tech who treated them as just a body part. While they are, they are still private to me! I found this a little awkward.
My doctor told me I had “lumpy breasts” and to always do self-checks; I left still not thinking about breast cancer even though my grandmother had it when I was 5.
I found a different lump when I was 40. When I pressed on it, black discharge came out. After a mammogram and an MRI, it was revealed that I did indeed have cancer.”
–Ann Marie Otis, of Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer
*Indicates name has been changed for privacy
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