Today I had my first mammogram. I wasn’t nervous, but it is the unknown that always seems to frighten people. I’m here to tell you that if your doctor recommends one, it’s not that bad. I have a strong family history of breast cancer, including a primary relative. Luckily, if there is any luck in this, we do not carry the BRCA gene mutation. In Canada, they recommend speaking to your doctor if you are under the age of 50 to see if you need to have a mammogram. Over the age of 50 (up until 69), and depending on your family history, a mammogram every two years is recommended. Over the age of 70, again they suggest speaking with your doctor.
I spoke with my doctor, and based on my family history, she got me into a program where I have one every year. I know the risks like false positive readings and I know that it isn’t a perfect tool, but anything that increases my odds of having a long and healthy life is worth it to me.
So, the burning questions – what happens and does it hurt? Well, you are going to get felt up and no one is going to by you dinner first. You don’t even get a lolly pop at the end. The most important thing that the lab forgot to tell me – the day that you are getting your mammogram, do not wear talcum powder and more importantly deodorant. My sister reminded me a couple of days before, and had she not, I would have had to wash my Secret off. Next most important – don’t forget your requisition form – they reminded me about that…a lot. It would have been a good idea to remind me about not wearing deodorant at that point…just saying. Also, if you have hair longer than chin length, bring an elastic – you may have to tie it up. I did. Once you get there and check in, you just wait for them to call you. They were very much on time which made it better.
From there, you change into a fashionable gown and strut, ok, walk sheepishly into another waiting area where you fill out a form while praying that the front closing gown doesn’t open in front of a bunch of strangers (maybe that was just me). When the mammogram technician came to get me, she was very kind. She walked me quickly through what would happen and warned me that there may be some discomfort but promised she would be quick. I listened intently to her instructions because the people pleaser in me wanted to be a model patient, plus I figured, the more I listened, the faster the whole process would go.
She positioned me to take the first image from the top, meaning, that my breast would be placed between two plastic plates which are then pressed together to flatten it to get a clearer picture. The process is repeated on the other side. It was a bit uncomfortable but more award than anything since you have to twist your head a bit so that it is out of the way. I suspect, that if you have a more bountiful bosom, like me there is a bit more discomfort, but it’s nothing unmanageable. She then told me that she would take a side image of each breast – pressing them in between the plastic plates from the side, and that it would be more uncomfortable than the first round. She was right. The good news is that it wasn’t horribly painful and the whole was over in under 5 minutes. Anyone who tells you that it feels like someone is closing a refrigerator door on their chest is not only wrong, I’d really question how they know what that feels like. There is nothing to be embarassed about – they are sensitive and try to get you out as quickly as possible and are professionals who do this every single day.
Dr. Oz says that mammograms are not perfect, but they are the best diagnostic tool that is currently available. Check out this video for his thoughts http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/10/marlo-thomas-mondays-with-marlo-mammograms-from-dr-oz_n_1765203.html. Everyone has to be their own health care advocate and make the best possible decisons based on their own risk factors and advice from their family doctor. Although I am not totally following his advice on this one, he likely has a point. I just feel more comfortable, given my circumstances to be checked more frequently. My two closest friends have been pestering me for years to go see a doctor – as much as I’m doing a lot of these things to get them to stop nagging : ), there is something empowering about doing what you can to try to live a long and healthy life.