The Dreaded M Word - Mammogram

I have labored for almost a year on whether to write this column.  It's my sense of humor and absolutely true, but the web is a strange thing and I always wonder whether I should be a bit more discreet.  Sorry, but it's time to throw caution to the wind  This is the story of my very first and utterly traumatic mammogram.  It evoked every emotion I had.  But despite this ridiculous first experience, I still am grateful for tests like this and go every year on schedule!

When my physician told me it was time for my first mammogram I wasn't exactly thrilled.  I had fairly small breasts and had heard all those stories women like to tell.  BUT, my father died of cancer in his 50's and had a sister who also had cancer (caught in time), so I was on board regardless.  Since there isn't any history of breast cancer in my family I initially took it pretty lightly, but that was soon to change.  Before I go any further I want to stress that EVERY professional I dealt with had great compassion and tried to make me as comfortable as possible.  It was just a Murphy's Law experience that happened once and has fortunately never been repeated.

The phone range and it was the mammography clinic.  Could I possibly move my appointment?  I had a tight schedule at that time, but agreed to go in an hour or 2 later.  When I arrived at the set time ready, willing and able, I was given a great big thank-you for being flexible.  The reason? Several first time mammograms had come back with serious cancers found and needed a follow-up before emergency surgery.  Now given this was my first time and that my dad died of cancer, I found a great dread slowly start to build in my gut.  While the information was shared for all the right reasons - they wanted to explain why I was inconvenienced - it really wasn't something you should share with a first-timer, especially one with a family member who passed away of cancer.

The next step is putting on the gown and then sitting patiently waiting your turn.  Nothing funny or unusual about that.  BUT what comes next was.  A totally lovely technician exuding warmth and reassurance invited me into THE ROOM with a broad smile.  Then to my surprise I was asked to remove the gown, place it on a chair by the door and then strut across a medium-sized open space to the machine?!?!?!??!  Excuse me?  I assume we are given those gowns to preserve at least a little sense of modesty as most of us getting mammograms are older and no longer enjoy strutting around naked.  The breasts aren't as perky as they used to be.  If the gown is open in front, the technician would still have easy access to the girls so why not let us leave it on?  In a lot of the images I find on a Google search they do this.  So why not here? Or they could have had a chair by the machine to place it on.  SIGH!  I just grinned and did what I was told all the while wishing I was a cartoonist and could capture this moment.  I was shocked at how far they could stretch my small breasts but was very fortunate the whole experience was comfortable for me.  Karma I guess for going with the flow.

I walked out having a great laugh over the experience, but that changed a few days later when I received a call.  The reason - I was on an emergency recall list and had to come in as quickly as possible.  What they shared about emergency call-backs at my first appointment, the fact they wouldn't share any information on why (urgent or just a precaution), my experience with my dad and having both my personal doctor and my significant other out of town made for a very tough moment. On the way to my appointment I thought carefully about what I needed to say and shared it on arrival. They needed to be more careful in the way they talked with patients and be willing to share more information - it is my information.  Everyone was again very understanding and supportive, but the person who called me denied handling it that way.

So there I sat in my gown again - but at a different clinic - this time very anxiously awaiting my turn.   I again had to leave my gown on a chair by the door and strut my stuff.  Thankfully it was a shorter walk to the machine.  My anxiety went up as they positioned me.  I quickly realized they were looking at the lymph nodes - a bad sign.  When I asked about this, they again refused to give me any information.  My blood pressure rose.  Then just as she went behind the screen to take the mammogram, she dropped the bomb, "Don't forget you have to have an ultrasound after this."  Thrown out casually, it hit like a ton of bricks as no one HAD told me.  An enormous sense of dread descended on me.  The room started to blacken and spots appeared.  Damn - I might faint.

The technician now started to panic as she reviewed her options.  I could see it in her eyes. There is humour to be found in every situation and this is where I always look back with a laugh..  I can only say I hope the technician does too.  If I did faint, she only had 2 options, each equally ridiculous.  First she could press the button to release my breast at which point I would thud to the ground. There was no way she could get around the screen in time to catch me.  The other option was to leave me hanging from the machine by my breast and run to get help.  Someone had to hold me while the other person went behind the screen to hit the release button.  I think it was that moment of hilarity that got me through.  While I really couldn't laugh at the time, it provided the distraction I needed to hold it together.  After all that I don't think I spoke another word through that whole appointment.  I was done, checked out, and just left my body behind to finish the job.

The end result?  When I went to my doctor for the results there wasn't a single thing to worry about.  Not only that, but the initial call-back was labeled "LOW RISK".  She was as unhappy as I was about this experience and to this day I cannot believe that it would be a problem to share the low risk status when they booked the appointment.  Fortunately future mammograms have been totally non-eventful experiences, but every time I make a new one - I take a moment to look back and laugh at that first one.

Now to close with a little Mammogram humour!!!!!  Now get out there and book that appointment you've been putting off.

Many women are afraid of their first mammogram, but there is no need to worry.
By taking a few minutes each day for a week preceding the exam and doing the following exercises, you will be totally prepared for the test and best of all, you can do these simple exercises right in and around your home.

Open your refrigerator door and insert one breast in door.
Shut the door as hard as possible and lean on the door for good measure.
Hold that position for five seconds. Repeat again in case the first time wasn't effective enough.

Visit your garage at 3AM when the temperature of the cement floor is just perfect.  Take off all your clothes and lie comfortably on the floor with one breast wedged under the rear tyre of the car. Ask a friend to slowly back the car up until your breast is sufficiently flattened and chilled. Turn over and repeat with the other breast. 

Freeze two metal bookends overnight. Strip to the waist. Invite a stranger into the room.
Press the bookends against one of your breasts. Smash the bookends together as hard as you can.
Set up an appointment with the stranger to meet next year and do it again.