I went for my first mammogram last week. It took me three months to call and make the appointment. When I called they said I could come the next day or in 6 months. Even though I wanted to keep putting it off I decided I didn’t want to spend my Summer with the appointment lingering on my mind so I took the next day.
We have a self-referral screening clinic where I live and starting at 40 you can call and make an appointment. So this is what I did. I want to give you as much detail as I can about the process so you can be prepared when you go for the first time. We all hear that your breast(s) gets a squeeze and some find it painful and others not so much. I also heard about false positives, as this is a screening clinic they are not using the best technology that is available. The top technology is at the hospital where I live.
When I made the phone call to book the appointment, I asked lots of questions. When will I get the results? How will you notify me? Will my family doctor get the results? What if I need a call back?
Since I already have lots of anxiety around my health and tests of any sort I also called my family doctor to go over everything again. She said she would call me if I needed a call back and not to panic if she did call because it didn’t mean I had breast cancer. The clinic will also send you a letter in the mail in about one week for a call back and 3 weeks for no call back.
I was told I couldn’t wear any deodorant, lotions, creams etc.. for the test. So that morning, I jumped in the shower and did an extra long under the arm scrub and an extra long rinse under the water and put on a clean bra ( didn’t want one that may have had deodorant on it) and went to work for the day.
By lunch time I was starting to smell myself. Gee, I was stressing!
Finally, I arrived at the clinic, registered and sat and waited.
I was called by a nurse to a small room where she explained what was going to happen and asked if I had any questions. Once again I asked all the same questions about results, call back etc. Then she told me to take everything above the waist off and walk into a another room. This kind of freaked me out a bit because I didn’t know who else was in the other room. However, the small room was attached directly to the room with the testing equipment, it was very private and surprising calming.
I walked into the other room with my hands covering my breasts and she led me to the machine. You have to get very close to the machine and the nurse took my breast and placed it on what I will call a tray. I will describe it as laying your breast on a tray, Imagine, trying to place as much of your breast as possible on to a table top. Pull your shoulder in, lean forward and use your hand to lift it on the table top. Then a plastic piece comes down and presses your breast to the tray. So it is like sandwiched on this tray. This pressing is what causes the discomfort/pain. I have to say I did find it painful for the first breast. When I realized the nurse was now going to step away to take the picture and leave me like this I wasn’t very happy about it. When she is taking the picture you have to be very still. Not that I was planning on ripping my breast out of the press to go anywhere. So she does this to each breast to get a horizontal picture. Then she move the machine and you do the same thing but on a vertical angle. I didn’t find the vertical to be as uncomfortable. Of course I was very nervous the whole time and the nurse was very kind and did her best to make me comfortable. At one point all I could think about was that she has probably seen and touched every shape, size breast imaginable, young, old, middle age. The nurse said she has been doing her job for 20 years. That was why she was so good!
As I was starting to get dressed the nurse called me back as she wanted to get another picture of the first pose because I was so nervous with the first picture she felt she could get a better one that included more breast tissue. Of course this made me nervous that she may have seen something. This time around I didn’t find the pressing to be as painful so I think being nervous made the pain seem worse.
This afternoon I got a call from my doctor to tell me everything came back fine. Now I have a baseline and they will compare all future mammograms with these pictures. I am glad I finally had the courage to complete the test and even more glad that the pictures were clear.
PS. Don’t be frightened by the picture, it illustrates the pressing and the machine but it is not quite like this in real life.