Welcome to my mammogram.

welcome-to-my-mammogram

 

There are 3 things women universally dread: the day we realize some asshole stopped manufacturing our favourite jeans, a pap smear and a mammogram.  In that exact order.  Always.  Last week I experienced number three on the list.  The mammogram.   The boob tube.  The knocker rocker.  The breast test quest.

Yes indeed, welcome to my mammogram.

So for those of you who are worried, concerned, afraid, nervous or curious about what a mammogram is *really* like, join me during the fun filled experience of mine.

 

 

mammogram-waiting-room

 

In Canada you don’t have to get a mammogram until you’re 50 years old.  That’s because the government is trying to save money not lives. But if you want to or have any history of breast cancer in your family  you can ask your doctor to get one earlier. 40 is a popular age for your first if you have a history of breast cancer.  My aunt had breast cancer so I told my doctor I’d like to get one.

The only instructions you have to follow when you’re getting a mammogram is to wear a top and pants so you can take your top off and still be clothed on the bottom when you go in.  Of course you could always wear a dress, be completely naked and schedule a colonoscopy for the same day and be ready for anything.  Oh! And don’t wear deodorant that day because it’s possible it will have metals in it that will interfere with the x ray.

So now you’re ready to leave your house in your pants, top and unprotected underarms (that are already getting a sideways glance from the cats because you’re nervous about getting your first mammogram).  Everything’s off to a good start.

I went to a brand new clinic, The Breast Assessment centre, a subsidiary of Hamilton Health Sciences in Hamilton, Ontario.  It’s beautiful.  It had a very sparse, Japanese type design to it so the minute I walked in the doors I felt good.   Like I was taking my boobs for a special spa treatment.

Your place may not be like mine but it was a really nice way to get the mammogram underway for me.  The beautiful surroundings made me more self conscious about feeling like I had seeping garbage smell coming from my underarms.  If I were in a Bangladeshi slum my smell at least could have blended a little.

Now that I had walked in and indiscriminately started taking pictures of the waiting room, with my arms clapped as tight to my sides as possible, it was time for me to check in.

I arrived at 12:35 for my 12:45 appointment.  Mainly I was there early because I was so looking forward to it. And by it I’m referring to the moment I returned home and could put deodorant on.  I was checked in, taken to the change room and given my gown within minutes.

As of yet no one had pointed to, commented on or made notice of my breasts in any way.  In fact they probably got more attention on my last trip to the grocery store.

 

pre-mammorgram

 

I had to remove everything on top and kept my jeans and boots on.  And my necklace.  Just because you’re about to have a mammogram doesn’t mean you can’t be fancy.

 

 

pre-mammogram-2

 

Even though the clinic is new and beautiful they didn’t have actual gowns for mammograms yet which means that I had to put on a regular, flimsy hospital gown worn backwards.  Which means there was no way to do it up so that it covered anything.  I could have held it together with both my hands but I had one hand in my pocket and the other one hailing a taxi cab.  Wait, no.  That’s not right.  I had one hand on my iPhone, taking pictures.  That’s right.   I was only walking out into a very small, private waiting room with no other people in it, but still.  I wanted to be covered up.  Enter the winter scarf tied as a jaunty belt. It was at this moment I wondered why I had never taken up Russian dancing. I looked around the change room to see if anyone knew of a good Russian dancing school but no one else was around.  Typical of this day I was having.  Here I was ready to establish what was obviously my next career and I couldn’t do anything about it because of these stupid boobs.  Today was boob day.  Tomorrow I’d look into the Russian dancing.

As soon as I finished my change room photoshoot I came out into the hall, ready to sit down in the waiting room but the lovely Beth said my name and asked me to follow her.

Beth was my X Ray technologist.  She’s be the one lifting, moving and squishing my boobs for the mammogram.  I immediately felt as though Beth could be trusted with my most prized possessions: the breasts of a woman who hasn’t had children. Sadly no one ever sees them. Conversely everyone sees the two warts on the end of my ankles, otherwise known as feet.

Here’s Beth.  Beth is about to ask me to step towards the big, biting machine so it she can set it up to properly gnaw down on each of my boobs.

A mammogram takes 4 pictures in total.  One of each boob with you standing straight in front of the machine the way it is now …

My-xray-expert-mammogram

 

And two with the machine in this tilt-a-whirl position.

Beth positions where you need to go to then lifts, shoves and gently rolls everything where it needs to be to get the best image.  Then the machine bears down automatically to a certain point.  When it stops squishing, Beth turns a hand crank to get it a bit tighter for good measure.

mammogram-machine

 

You’re also given an X ray blocking pad (total technical term) to protect your lady guts. I’m pretty sure I’m past the point of ever deciding to have children, but the X ray blocking pad would help ensure they didn’t come out looking like E.T., I would imagine.  But that’s just a guess.

 

getting-a-mammogram

 

I know what you’re thinking right now.  You’re thinking that girl has ENORMOUS elbows.  And I agree.  But I think it was just a bad camera angle.

What about the pain?

If you have big boobs it will hurt less because you have fat cushioning them.

A lot of the pain factor depends on your technologist and how heavy handed they are with the squishing part.

If you go during your period it will likely hurt more because your breasts are more sensitive at that time. If that’s the case you can reschedule your appointment.

If you are nervous and tense it will hurt more because the chest muscles laying under your boob will be tensed up.

Around 1/3rd of women say a mammogram is very painful.

Which means 2/3rds or over 66% do not find it painful. Which is the majority of women.

Did I find it painful?  No. No I did not.

The whole procedure, in and out takes about 15 minutes if you don’t have any waiting in the waiting room.  That’s from the minute I got in the place until I got out. Now, it took me a bit longer because I was taking pictures and showing off my boobs, and looking for a good Russian dancing coach, but for most people it will be a quick, 15 minute visit.

Results generally take about a week. I don’t have mine yet but I’m looking forward to getting them.  I’m also looking forward to getting a Yugo.

 

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100 Comments

  1. Karol says:

    Look how far we’ve come just in our generation for detection and survival rates alone! I don’t miss mine, I figure a little discomfort is worth it. My mother would tell me to offer it up to the poor souls in Purgatory. Can’t tell you how many times I heard that in my lifetime.
    Good job, Karen.

  2. Kathy says:

    I call mine a mam gram, as I’ve only got one.

    Not to put too much of a damper on the many testimonies to the technology, but my cancer was not detected in my mammograms…it was discovered quite by accident when we were doing an ultrasound on what turned out to be a cyst that we felt…it was near it, but invisible on the mammogram done a few months earlier. The cyst was nothing….I like to equate it to the tourist capturing a bank robbery when shooting a photo of a historic building….serendipity.

    So, do manual exams too, ladies. Get your partner to do it. Just do it regularly, as changes in bumps and lumps are also indicators

  3. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Good for you Karen..and thanks for sharing it with other women..I hope everything is OK with yours..

  4. Bonnie says:

    I have to admit that I have not had one in a while. Once, when my doctor told me to schedule a mammogram, I explained that I was much too busy. “Couldn’t I just slam my breasts in the refrigerator door and call it a day?”
    No.
    And, I don’t understand the medical use of the term “uncomfortable.” To me, uncomfortable is feeling the tag inside your shirt, sitting on a sofa that is too hard, being in a warm room with little air circulation…To me, most of the medical procedures that doctors and nurses call uncomfortable are somewhere on the pain index. They may not bring shocking pain that cannot be tolerated, but they are painful.
    Having said that, I will say that my mammograms have caused tolerable, temporary pain. I think everyone should do whatever they can to stay healthy.

  5. Noelle says:

    Ah the annual squish, I am all too familiar with it as you know. It is easier when you only have one boob, but I don’t recommend the route one has to take to get to that. Thanks for the fun, not pink ribbon bullshit or offensive mammo reminder.

  6. Theresa says:

    Karen,
    Thank you so much for sharing your mammogram experience. I have been a Radiologic Technologist for over thirty years. I am registered in Radiography, Mammography and CT. It is important for people to realize that while many medical procedures may cause discomfort or pain, they are necessary. After having normal mammograms for over ten years, I was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer one year ago. I had a bilateral mastectomy and today I am cancer free. I had dense breasts and mammograms were very uncomfortable for me. I am so thankful that I didn’t let the pain keep me from getting mammograms every year. Trust me on this one, the pain from a mammogram is a temporary thing and it could very well save your life.

  7. LazySusan says:

    OMG, I was IN a Russian Dance Group! Senior year, and we performed at schools in the area, as well as for Senior Follies. It was a blast.

    Then, and for most of my life, I really had no breasts. I had chest bumps that even the smallest cup was too large for. I weighed 100 pounds. My first mammogram was something close to humiliating, as the technician tried to contort me in such a way as to be able to pull something of my skin onto the plate in order to get an image. Tiptoes, not exactly painful, but certainly not painful, either. Thank goodness it doesn’t last long.

    On my own, I found two lumps while in my 20’s. My doctor thought they might be cysts, and wanted to cut me open. I asked if there was something short of being cut open that could be done. Well, yes, he said, it’s called aspiration where we insert a needle into the cyst and draw out the liquid. But if we cannot get out all of the liquid, you get cut open later, because cancer can hide INSIDE a cyst. Oh, and we can’t give you any anesthetic for the aspiration, because it changes the texture of the tissue and we won’t be able to tell if the cyst is empty. We have to be able to feel that the cyst is flat and empty. So I lie down on the table topless. How bad could it be, it’s just a needles, like any shot. And then he pulls out a horse needle which gets plunged into the area he’s holding with his other hand. My body burst into a cold sweat right that moment. I’m pretty sure I also went into shock. Why did there have to be TWO of the little buggers? Another plunge and suck, and after some feeling around, he declared them both flat and I was on my way, albeit with my knees almost buckling on the way to the car.

    Mammograms over the years were mostly uneventful, thank goodness. I eventually gained enough weight that they weren’t so humiliating any longer. The technicians were always top notch and quite understanding.

    The Paps, on the other hand, were another story. If you don’t get your Pap from a female, switch to a female. I can’t tell you how many times I was pinched when the doctor clamped the speculum open, or how many ice cold devices were thrust into me. That all stopped when I switch to a female doctor, at least until the last Pap. I hadn’t had one for a few years, because I’m much older now and they’re not recommended annually for us old geezers. And I’m not the sort of person who ordinarily talks about these things to someone else. The nurse practitioner apparently was unaware of how dry an elderly woman can get, and this is no surprise because I didn’t know, either, and I’m the elderly woman! So I was unprepared for the excruciating pain that ensued. It was almost, but not quite, as painful as the time the anesthetic wore off after a huge hemorrhoid had been cut off and sutured, before I was even able to take the pain medication. So pay attention, you aging ladies who might not be sexually active any longer for one reason or another, and get some hormone cream awhile before any upcoming Pap.

    So, after a lifetime of both mammograms and Paps, neither is painful, both are uncomfortable but don’t last long enough to bitch about, and if you’re prepared and informed, there should be no surprises. So, kudos to you, Karen, for dealing with the subject in an informative and amusing way, and encouraging women to do the right thing for themselves, and take care of their health so they can have long, happy lives.

  8. Only you can make light of an uncomfortable situation!! Cheers to that and to good results!

  9. Martha says:

    I’m 5′ tall, small-breasted, mid 40’s. Have only had one mammogram and it was uncomfortable due to my height, but I must say painless. Hilarious post Karen, I’m definitely paying more attention to my accessories on my next visit to the doctor.

    I’m short but I’m healthy, yeah…

  10. Not something that we men talk about nor do we have women talking to us about the subject. However, reading what you went through Karen as well as reading every single comment brings out a lot a lot of knowledge and information about what is a very important subject. I know because every Valentine’s Day for the past quarter century I remember as the day of mother’s funeral after losing her long battle with breast cancer. The gains that we’ve made in saving lives are so much better than it was then. But you can’t fix what you don’t know. And you won’t know if you don’t get checked.

    Thank you Karen for posting about such an important subject.

  11. Laura Bee says:

    I just spent the last 15 or 20 minutes reading your adventure and all the wonderful comments – while feeling myself up the whole time. Everything seems good, but thanks for this. My Nana lost a breast back in the 60’s or early 70’s (before I was born in ’73) She lived to be 92, cancer free. It was her heart in the end. I have not been taking care of me lately….but I did find a dentist in our new town. No Dr. yet, but I haven’t looked really hard. I think I should start gettting them, but do I need a Dr to refer me or can I find a clinic near me & go? Guess I could Google that info, nevermind. Thanks for the push.

  12. Billy says:

    Hey Karen,
    you are a beacon of amusement, as always. But I do have to correct you, because Yugo is not a Russian car. It was actually produced in ex-Yugoslavia, now Serbia, for almost thirty years in a more-less same style. The factory still exists, and it’s in my town 🙂

  13. Duane says:

    Do mammograms CAUSE cancer??
    http://www.naturalnews.com/043930_mammograms_detecting_cancer_thermography.html

    A moneymaking tool for the cancer industry…..

    • Karen says:

      Hi Duane. Thanks for the article so I could comment on it. That article is bullshit. I’d equate it to the study that “proved” vaccines cause autism. To say or think that mammograms are a moneymaking tool is an insult to all the woman whose lives has been saved by a mammogram screening or anyone who knows someone whose life has been saved. Which is pretty much everyone. ~ karen

  14. Karen says:

    I’d like to confirm. Big boobs do not provide a cushion. The excruciating pain. The tears. The technician who doesn’t give a shit. Every time.

  15. BittenNotShy says:

    Am I pro-mammogram? I am definitely not against mammogram, for it can save lives. However, I was assaulted, tortured with the machine by a sadistic radiographer a couple of years ago. She clamped my boobs up and dragged them toward the floor.

    Nobody believes the incident took place. The health organization and machine manufacturers were more interested in protecting their reputation than to prevent it from happening again. The radiographer team lead even expressed solidarity with her fellow radiographers against any potential restriction to their ‘freedom’ of doing things whichever way they want. I was told how the radiographer was most concerned for me and how the machine could not possibly do what I claimed. The machine used on me was supposedly the GE Senogrphe Essential (same or similar to in the photos of this blog post), but I remember the machine used on me had a much taller gap between the top and bottom plates (termed “compression paddle” and “bucky”) in resting position.

    Anyhow, the Senographe Essential supposedly has the movement buttons on the gantry arm (the whole portion that tilts for the sideway X-rays, as photographed in this blog post) deactivated when there is a compression of 3 daN or more between the plates, but there is no mention about the footswitches being deactivated. The radiographer was out of my sight and away from me when she carried out her deeds. Regardless of what brand of machine it really was. I believe she used the footswitch on a long cord stretched out across the small room to the control station. I had tiny but perky breasts. Now I have tiny droopy breasts.

    So, please be wary of the environment of your mammogram. Be wary of where the footswitches are. Take photos, lot of photos, for your own protection. Mammogram is naturally an isolating environment, for patient privacy. Be assertive – yell stop if you suspect anything is not right, and scream as loud as you can if need be, so to alert people possibly rooms or hallways away.

    Good luck! Don’t let a-holes take away your freedom to choose having a mammogram.

  16. Christopher says:

    To all the men out there with partners having Mammograms:

    You can’t share the pain or even understand it. But you can be there to support, comfort and when necessary protect. Ladies don’t have to be alone through this process, ordeal or not. Be there for the ones you love.

    And this goes for everyone else, regardless of if it is a friend, partner, sister, daughter, mother or flatmate.

    Support each other, stay safe and stay well.

  17. Jan Willi Garnaes Johnson, nee Petersen says:

    Can I send my favorite potato chip (crisp) to your P.O. Box? Jan (as in Johan) Willi

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