Technically, I was not due for my first mammogram until next year when I turn 40, but as this year comes to a close, I decided I wanted to have all my parts checked. I don’t know if it is my age or something in the environment, but I feel like everyday I hear about someone else I know being diagnosed with breast cancer or another type of cancer. It is scary, to say the least, and I figured it was time to get a baseline mammogram. The experience was a bit different than I had anticipated and I am going to share it with you. How lucky for you…a whole blog about having my boobs squished (which, truth be told, ended up being the least weird part of the experience)!
As expected, I was shown into the changing area and given a pink gown (well, not really a gown…more like a gown shirt). I was pleasantly surprised at how good I looked in that particular shade of pink (I’m TOTALLY joking…I look good in all shades of pink). Anyway, the tech called me in to the room with the machine (this was a 3D mammogram, so I don’t know how the machine looks different than others). I noticed the clear plastic trays and figured that was where the squishing would take place.
The tech went over my health history and then walked me over to the machine. I don’t know what I had envisioned, but I did not anticipate standing during the mammogram. I guess it never came up in conversation. The only thing anyone had ever really told me was that they squish your boobs flatter than you can ever imagine having them squished. Would it hurt? Would years of breastfeeding have helped the cause since my boobs are, well, less perky than they used to be? The tech took my right breast in her hand (I think the combination of costume changes in front of cast mates and having three babies has made me basically the least modest human on earth), so that did not phase me at all.
THAT is when it got interesting. After trying to put my breast in the right place, the tech said, “I think this will easier with a smaller tray.” I laughed out loud and waited while she got a different size tray to accommodate my less than buxom boobs. I was still very focused on how badly the squishing would hurt, but honestly, by the time the squishing happened, I was so focused on EVERYTHING else, that I hardly noticed my pancaked boob. In order to get pictures of all of the breast tissue, my body was leaned so far forward that my face was awkwardly pressed against the side of the plastic, one arm hugging the machine, while using my other hand to hold my other breast and gown out of the way. To say this position was awkward is the understatement of the century and I was trying so hard not to laugh.
At this point, we made the unpleasant discovery that my chest bone (“decolletage” for all you fancy folks) sticks out farther than the average person. How did we discover this? Well, what happens is that the top plastic tray is lowered down to flatten the breast against the bottom…tray? Ledge? I can’t quite think of what to call the bottom part of the machine where your boob is actually laying (resting? That sounds nice). Anyway, because of the shape of my chest bone, by the time the tray even got to the point of smushing my boob, it felt like someone was crushing my chest cavity with an anvil (actually, as I sit here 24 hours later, my chest is still extremely sensitive to the touch). I glanced down and could see the my boob was quite remarkably flat (that part is real…it is FLAT), but I guess the brain has a way of isolating pain, so I did not feel the squishing at all. I was very focused on the intense pain of my chest being bruised (like when one part of my body hurt when I was little and my brother would step on my foot to make me forget about what was hurting in the first place…thanks, Adam). The tech was very kind and felt terribly that it was hurting so badly. She sincerely did everything in her power to lessen the pain, but we needed to get good pictures and there was not much way around it.
So, after a few wildly awkward positions, she got all of the pictures she needed. She said I would hear back in about two weeks with the results (end of the year, so I guess there are lots of images to read). Because this was my first mammogram, she let me know that it is fairly likely I will get called in for more images. Since there is nothing to compare it to, any asymmetrical tissue would be noted and would require further imaging. I was grateful that she and my internist let me know that. If I do have to go back in, I’m sure I will be nervous, but I appreciated the head’s up that it is VERY common. In fact, my internist said she calls back 7-10 women a WEEK for additional pictures. Better to err on the side of caution. Next year, they will have a baseline for comparison. While I have no reason to think things will not be okay, there is, of course, the scary thought in the back of my head of “what if?” I guess, at the end of the day, it is the “what if?” voice that convinced me to get checked. I changed back into my clothes, left the lovely pink gown shirt, and went home. I did it….my first mammogram.
If you have never had a mammogram, I do not share the details to make you nervous. I wish I had a better understanding of what was going to occur before I went, so maybe this will give you a more complete picture. Overall, it was fast and, while uncomfortable, is one of the most important things I have done to care for my body. I make jokes, but I do recognize that mammograms save lives and I am proud of myself for going. Also, while your boob is literally in someone’s hand, it is helpful to find the funny. Cheers to taking care of the girls!