Boobs (for lack of a better title)

I had my second mammogram last week. In terms of medical procedures, I don’t think it’s one of the worst. I’d actually rather have my boobs pulled, pushed, and squished than my teeth cleaned. And as lady tests go, I definitely prefer they stay north of the border, if you know what I’m saying. I’m saying I’d much rather have a mammogram than a pap smear (for all the confused gentleman readers), but I understand that all these procedures are recommended by medical professionals for optimum medical care.

I hope everyone has someone in their life who lovingly and annoyingly pesters them about scheduling routine appointments like these. (Ben is my someone, if you hadn’t already guessed. Your clue was “pesters.”) I also hope everyone has the resources needed to obtain such care. I’ll avoid sharing my complaints about finding a provider and navigating the insurance system, not because I don’t have them (and likely use them to avoid/delay uncomfortable medical appointments) but because I recognize such complaints come from a place of privilege and it’s probably gross to read about them.

I’m sharing some insight from my experience and perspective because (a) I think it might help others and (b) it might help end the stigma on women’s health. Please remember that I’m “just” an English teacher. I’m a nerd who has breasts, who has had those breasts examined by medical professionals, and who is sharing her experience. More professional insight and advice is provided by folks at the Susan G. Komen organization and the Office on Women’s Health. A Google search for “about mammograms” results in over 40 million other hits as well. I also found a resource that provides information about free or low-cost mammograms (which isn’t perfect, but may help) and want to remind/inform you about Planned Parenthood’s women’s medical health services. Not only does Planned Parenthood provide access to critical preventative care, but they provide incredible and accessible information on health and wellness, as illustrated on their site about clinical breast exams (which has links to additional information about mammograms). Like I said, this might simply be a reminder to you. Personally, I was unaware of all that Planned Parenthood offered for too long. Until my mid-twenties, my understanding of the organization was limited to the fact that they provided abortions. (And, again, we come back to my privilege. I’ve been provided adequate medical education and care, so never relied on the services or resources this organization provides. I appropriately digress, but back to my boob exam…)

I am happy to say that I’ve been made to feel comfortable in all my breast examinations to date. Primary providers have always been considerate when performing breast exams and, when it comes to mammograms and follow-up procedures (we’ll get to the latter there later), I’ve been impressed with everyone – from those who have helped schedule my appointments and the receptionists at the clinics, to the mammographers and radiologists who have pushed, pulled, and squished my boobs and informed me about what they see. I’m not all that modest when it comes to that stuff, but I’m admittedly critical and it says a lot that I honestly have no complaints about the care I’ve received. Kudos across the board, boob-related medical professionals!

There are, however, some things I would have liked to have known in addition to the helpful “know before you go” information provided, such as:

  • You’re asked to hold your breath while they take the x-ray images. This is not a big deal, really. You don’t need to train for it or even think much more about it now that you know. But I didn’t know this until my boob was smooshed between two plastic plates and the technician told me to take a breath and then hold it and I was suddenly convinced that I was about to screw it all up (which I didn’t). Again, no biggie, but now you know.
  • Balance plays a part in the exam. Not a big part, but enough of a part to mention here. Now, they did ask me if I had any concerns with standing or balance when I made the appointment, but I didn’t think much of it. Nor did I think far enough ahead to realize that I’d have to stand still momentarily while my boob is smooshed between two plastic plates and my cheek is smashed flush against the machine. Again, I don’t think you need to train for this, but maybe simultaneously push your boob and your face against a wall and hold for approximately 7 seconds to get a feel for what you’re in for.
  • You may get some unsettling news at your appointment. I did at my first. They told me that there were a couple spots they wanted to take a closer look at and referred me for a follow-up ultrasound. They were kind and calm. I guess I knew that there was a possibility for news like this, but I had been more focused on the logistics of the boob-smooshing procedures than anything else going into that first appointment, so I was a little shook leaving my first mammogram.
  • It might help to talk to other women about your breast health. I didn’t really do so until I was worried after receiving my initial results. Then I called my mom who, as it turns out, had similar initial results. Ben was incredibly understanding and supportive, but talking with someone who had been through a similar experience was comforting. In lieu of texting, calling, or otherwise talking with others, I hope reading a post like this and accessing the resources embedded might help to provide some additional insight and comfort.
  • The first few mammograms help to define “your normal.” This is a phrase physicians repeated several times during my appointment last week. Last year’s ultrasound revealed that the spots they wanted to examine more closely after the mammogram were not cause for immediate concern, but they wanted to take another close look at the same areas this year. In fact, this year my primary provider proactively ordered an ultrasound. The physicians conducted it at the same appointment immediately following my mammogram. In my case, it seems they got a better indication of what “my normal” may be. They didn’t identify any additional areas for further examination and determined that the original spots had not changed in size or shape. The doctor explained that they look for similar results two years from your baseline (first) mammogram to comfortably say such areas are not cancerous, but that there is less than a 1% chance for me at this point.

Before I left the clinic, I scheduled my mammogram for next year. I would love to tell you that this is because I’m becoming a more responsible, proactive adult. It’s actually because they prompted me to do so. I appreciate them helping me become a more responsible, proactive, and healthy adult. In an effort to pay it forward… schedule your mammogram, yo! 

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