October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Part of being aware is doing what you need to do to get screened for the disease—like doing self-exams and getting an annual mammogram. The American Cancer Society recommends getting yearly mammograms starting at age 40, but you and your doctor should always decide what’s best for you. I have a family history of breast cancer, so my doctor referred me to mammography a little earlier than most. Shall I tell you about my experience? Okay!
I arrived at the lab 15 minutes prior to my 1:30pm appointment time—as I had been told to do. Honestly? I don’t know why they didn’t just tell me that my appointment would be at 1:15…but okay. Sure.
After the usual filling out of paperwork and photocopying of my insurance card, I was given a wristband—which I guess is for record-keeping, but it made me laugh because the last time I had one of those it was for going on rides at the fair. Then I was ushered into a dressing room where I was told to wipe off any lotion or deodorant from my underarms and to put on a gown that ties in the front. There were two sizes of gowns:
I gowned up and stuffed all my belongings into a plastic bag before moving to the next area to await my technician.
You know how after childbirth and breastfeeding, you’re just not that shy about your body any more? You’ve been poked and prodded by so many doctors and nurses and lactation specialists that you’re kind of used to the idea that your “private” parts have become somewhat public? That comes in handy at the mammogram lab.
My technician had clearly done about a million mammograms. She was professional, efficient, and kept the conversation going so that I was hardly aware that someone I had just met was busy stuffing my boob into a giant waffle iron.
It was easy enough at first. All I had to do was stand there and chitchat while it all happened. The tech manipulated my body gently into the perfect pose—it kind of reminded me of getting my senior portraits done in high school. But…kind of like a step aerobics class, the moves kept getting more difficult as we went along. By the end, I had to remember to stand very still—while leaning forward slightly, draping one arm across the machine, and twisting my head to the left just so. All while one of my breasts was being smashed into a pancake. Then we did it all over again on the other side. Fun!
The actual X-ray picture taking part only took about 15 minutes, and really only about four of those minutes were painful. Not as painful as, say, labor contractions, but definitely more than just uncomfortable. So yes, it hurt, but not badly enough to discourage me from going again—because I know that mammography is a useful tool in early detection of breast cancer and getting it done could possibly save my life.