23 September 2008

Mammograms - Beauty in Health

I had my first mammogram this morning. My doctor sent me as a screening process after my annual physical, telling me it was a standard procedure. It seemed a little early for me since I'm in my 30s, but I don't know which concerned me more: the idea of squishing my breasts between two plates or the instructions on the requisition to not wear deodorant or anti-perspirant that morning.

The good news is that the process is much faster and wasn't as bad as I'd made it in my mind. (Well actually, the good news is that I received the all-clear. Let's hear it for my healthy girls!) After checking in at the desk, you wait for your turn. They usher you into a change room, ask you to remove all clothing from the waist up and put on a sooo attractive hospital gown. This thing was great; gi-frickin'-normous and with three ties at the side in charming hospital-ready soft blue. There was a little overlap, but the top two ties didn't line up (very the extremely well-endowed, I'm guessing) so there's a lovely pouch-y effect. At least the material was very soft.

You are instructed to sit in a smaller waiting room until they call you. After a few minutes, a nice lady with a slight limp asked me to follow her into the procedure room and sit down. There was a tall machine with plastic bits and a little computer station in the room. She asked me some questions which sounded like standard procedure: when was your last cycle, are you pregnant, is there any family history of breast, colon cancer, etc. She then asked me to sign a waiver stating I indicated that I was not pregnant.

The technician left to check if my doctor wanted two images or four, but gave me a pat on the head when I answered the all-important question about using deodorant or anti-perspirant. I spent the minute she was away being thankful that she actually had to ask and looking at my nemesis, the giant breast squishing machine. It's about 2 metres tall and is just a pair of large arms holding a couple of clear plastic plates and a few foot pedals. At this point I remembered the technician's limp and tried to convince myself that she wouldn't have a twitch at an inopportune moment.

When she came back in, she gave me the good news that I only needed two plates and the bad news that I had to get the vertical images, which are more painful. She swung the two large arms around to they were at an angle and asked me to stand in front of the machine and expose the right breast. Then, just like you'd expect, she lifted me onto the clear plastic plate on the machine. She asked me to hold a handrail on the top and tilt like I was doing a side-bend, then she sort of pulled the breast away from me (just a tug, no real pain there) and then used the foot pedal to lower the top angled plate.

She pushed the plate down until I was well squished, but to be honest it was more uncomfortable than painful. She kept that limping foot steady and didn't twitch at all. It felt a little like when an underwire bra slips and pulls flat across your breast. (Actually, it felt like someone was pulling hard on my breast!) Not a pleasant feeling by any stretch of the imagination, but not horrific. The worst part was the plates trying to squish the rest of my chest. Then she told me to hold my breath: not a problem when your chest is being squished. She walked over to the computer and took a picture, then we repeated everything for the left side. It took about as long as a dental x-ray.

The hard part was when she told me to go back into the waiting room while the doctor examined the slides to see if they needed to take the other two images. She assured me that this was because this was my first mammogram, but then I was sitting there for ten minutes thinking about her coming back and saying we needed more images. Luckily, a different technician came out in eleven minutes and said I was cleared to leave.

Why am I writing about this in a beauty blog? Three reasons:

Knowledge is power. I think women who've never had this procedure should know that it's not necessarily as bad as the horror stories our mothers told us. I have a well-endowed friend who's been telling me her horror stories about these tests since we were 18, so it's been built up in my mind as pretty awful. Also, the notion of "the big C" is larger when you are testing for it, even as a standard screening process. It's almost like being tested made the possibility of it happening much more real, which is ridiculous in theory, but in reality makes for some decent anxiety.

Early prevention/treatment is key. The earlier you find breast cancer, the better your odds of survival. The eariler you find breast cancer, the less devastating the treatment usually is.

Knowledge is beauty. Living in fear can cause some fierce worry lines when a simple procedure can take worry away. I have "grainy breast tissue" so my monthly breast self-exams always make me uneasy; what's the difference between a grain and a lump? Part of me saw this test as a way to prove that the monthly self-exams were right, but I also went into this knowing I might have a bad outcome. For me, not knowing was worse because when I don't know for sure I react like the bad is probably the reality.

This was a small act of facing a demon, and I'm embracing the fact that that I didn't flinch. Be active. Do monthly breast self-exams. Get an annual physical. When your doctor says it's time, get a mammogram. Go to RethinkBreastCancer.com for more information.

No comments: