The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

Having a mammogram – not so bad, really

Cross posted

If you’re not keen on Too.Much.Information, you might prefer to avoid this post. I want to share my experience here, given that I was so scared about this, and as it turns out, unnecessarily so.

Now that I’m 45, I’m eligible for the free breast screening programme here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and my doctor’s practice nurse has been hassling reminding me politely that I should make an appointment and get one done. I finally did it, last Friday. I was very nervous about it, because the prospect of having my breasts squished between sheets of cold glass wasn’t all that appealing. As in, holy f-ck, get me out of here!

It wasn’t all that bad.

Once I made the appointment, the clinic sent me a letter explaining the process, and giving me details about where to go and where to park. Very helpful, given that it’s a stressful and scary experience, first time round. They included accessibility information: all the clinics in New Zealand have been designed to be wheelchair accessible. When I got there, I found that there was plenty of reserved parking, and car parks for people using disability stickers were right beside the door.

Once I got through the sign in and greet and wait (just 5 minutes), the radiographer who was taking my shots came and collected me, took me through to the changing room, explained that once I had taken my bra off, I could use the gown they supplied, or just put my own shirt on and slip it off once they were right ready to take the shots. She took me into the x-ray room and talked me through the process, and checked carefully about the scars I have from having had a couple of benign lumps taken out about twenty years ago.

So far so good. But the next part was what I had been dreading. The radiographer lined me up against the machine. She positioned the height very carefully, and helped me to position my breast on the plates for the first, horizontal squish. Then came the squish.

It wasn’t too bad at all. It was uncomfortable, and uncomfortable to the point of painful, but not painful to the point of crying out, or even gasping. The sensation was one of heavy pressure, and the tightest, heaviest pressure lasted only for a couple of seconds. I found I could cope very easily with it.

The horizontal squish was repeated on my other breast, and then the radiographer changed the angle of the plates so that she could take a vertical shot. The aim of this shot was to get as much of my pectoral muscle in as possible, and it took a bit of work to get the machine at the right angle. More squishing pressure, and then a repeat with my other breast. After that it was back to the changing room, to wait while the radiographer checked the quality of the pictures. She called me back in for a repeat horizontal shot on one breast, and while I didn’t exactly bound in with glee, I certainly wasn’t at all afraid of having another shot done. Then I was free to go.

The results will be through in a couple of weeks. The odds of me having breast cancer are small, as they are for any woman, but if they do detect one, then the chances that I will survive are much better. I’m very glad to be able to have this screening test, just as I am glad to be able to have smear tests. Not very much fun, at all, but worth it.

For all my fear, it didn’t hurt very much. I did time the test for the pre-ovulation stage of my menstrual cycle, because my breasts are always tender post-ovulation, and had my period not arrived the day before the test, I would have rescheduled it. I commented to the radiographer that this was one time when being a small-breasted woman was a bonus. She replied that it didn’t seem to make a difference, ‘though I would be keen to hear what larger breasted women say about that.

Update: I got an ‘all clear’ letter today. The letter is excellent; it says that there is ‘no evidence of breast cancer’ in upper case and bold, and it reminds me that screening isn’t perfect, so I need to see my doctor if I notice any changes in my breasts.

7 responses to “Having a mammogram – not so bad, really

  1. Jackie Clark May 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one. I was so scared of them, and then I went and had one, and was enormously embarrassed at how scared I was. I’ve had a couple now, and like you say, they are a bit uncomfortable but not nearly as uncomfortable as going through treatment for breast cancer.

  2. Craig Ranapia May 30, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    *hugs* Don’t mean to come across as a man-splaining ass, but you’re awesome. I’ve seen women whose lives have quite literally been saved — and their quality of life dramatically improved — by early detection and treatment of cancer.

    And it’s great you’re talking about your experience, the good and not so great parts alike. Sunlight, as they say, is the great disinfectant — and there’s so much shame and fear around cancer that needs to be cleared out of the way. Kudos and hugs to you, Deborah!

  3. Emma May 30, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Yes, thank you, Deborah. I’m actually looking forward to being elligible for free mammograms, because breast cancer runs in my family. I lost a cousin to it when I was a child. That said, when I can go, no doubt I’ll be no better about it than I am about getting round to my smear tests.

    First time for anything like that can be so scary.

  4. Deborah June 1, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I got an all clear letter today. I’ve updated the post with details.

  5. Msconduct June 2, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Since you ask about larger bresated women’s experiences: I’m one of them and have not felt even discomfort from the screening.

    To say I was surprised at how easy it was is an understatement considering all the horror stories I’d heard about the pain. Of course everyone will have a different experience, but it worries me that women might not have the screening through fear when in most cases there’s probably no need for it.

  6. Violet June 6, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Thanks for sharing. At 46 I have yet to have one of those tests – and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t had a smear since my daughter was born 6 years ago!

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