Happy Breastday!

I had my first ever mammogram today. For my 40th birthday, my city gave me free coupons for cervical/uterine cancer checks, a mammogram, and a colon cancer test. What a way to make a girl feel old! I am working my way through all of these tests and today was the day for the mammogram.

To be honest, I was scared of doing it. I knew that it involved squishing my breast, but I didn’t really know how it would work. I thought that I would have to squish my chest flat against a panel or something like that – like a chest x-ray – but that was not the case.

What happened was that I took my bra and shirt off and stood in front of a machine. The machine had an arm with a sideways C-shaped part on the end that flipped around. (Think of the C as more boxy than this letter C – like a square with one open side, or the katakana character for ko –> コ.) The nurse had me stand up at the mouth of the C, with my right arm resting on the top of the sideways C (which contained a panel with a film). My right breast was pressed against the inside of the top part of the C. The nurse then — not very gently — pushed and squished my breast against the top arc of the C and then maneuvered the bottom part of the C (which was a clear, plexiglass plate) so that it pushed on the other side of my breast. (Okay, if you are not getting all this talk of Cs, just think of a trash compactor in a scary movie. My breast was pressed up against one wall while the other wall came up against it on the other side.) After they did the right side, they flipped the C over so the film was on the left side side and then pressed the plexiglass plate up against the right side of my left breast. Actually, I forgot to mention that they did my right breast once, but the machine wasn’t working properly, so they had to do it again. The poor nurse was very apologetic.

I was afraid that it would hurt, and it did, but it was more like “major discomfort” than actual pain. And it only lasted a few seconds (although it felt longer). I would definitely not be afraid of doing it again. It was much less painful than I thought. I realized I was mainly scared because I didn’t know what would happen more than anything else, so I decided to write about my experience so other women (and men) would not use fear (especially fear caused by ignorance — which is the most dangerous kind of fear) as an excuse not to have a checkup.

I got to look at the scans when they were done, but I didn’t get to hear the results. They will be sent to me by post. I should get them in a couple of weeks.

Here are some breast cancer statistics. Note that heredity is not as strong a factor as you might think, so don’t decide not to have a mammogram just because no one in your family has had breast cancer.

The (US) National Cancer Institute recommends that women over 40 (who are not in any high risk categories) get mammograms once every one or two years.

I hope that those of you who are 40+ will read this and make an appointment for a mammogram today. It doesn’t hurt as much as you might think and it doesn’t take a lot of time. Don’t let fear or laziness prevent you from taking care of yourself.