I tell women to get their mammograms all the time – it’s part of who I am. As the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, friend to breast cancer survivors, and as a fundraiser for breast cancer programs, I know the importance of the annual mammogram. Yet, as my fortieth birthday approached, I wanted to put my own first mammogram off. Pretend I didn’t need it. Not mention it and hope people would forget. But, I knew I couldn’t. To hold myself accountable, I made it public. There is nothing like telling 1,000 people on social media to keep you on track, right?
A week before I hit the big 4-0, I called for my appointment. I spoke with Melissa in scheduling, who was both friendly and upbeat. I have a tendency to use humor when I am nervous, uncomfortable, or anxious and because I was all three, I was in rare form. She humored me, laughed at my jokes, and set me up the appointment. She gave me explicit instructions to not wear perfumes, lotions, or deodorants before my appointment.
The irony of not being able to wear deodorant before an appointment that causes a cold sweat is not lost on me. I had refused my husband’s offer to come along and didn’t regret it until I arrived at the building. I could have used a little prodding. I sat in my car, took a deep breath, and promised myself that I could buy some pretty new shoes if I made it in on time.
The reception I received was fabulous! Barb, the woman who greeted me upon arrival, saw that it was my first time and cheered for me! Now THAT is something I could get used to! The same happened when the medical assistant came to get me – a little cheer! I mean really, when was the last time someone cheered at your medical appointment? (Gynecology offices should really consider this). After changing into the gown – not the most flattering article of clothing I’ve ever encountered – I was brought almost immediately into the exam room. I may have been considered a flight risk.
Lisa, the radiology tech, was super nice. By this point, I was sweating buckets, bright red, and highly anxious. A 3D mammogram (which does NOT include fancy glasses like at the movies) was what we had decided on. It is a great tool to use for your first mammogram to get a comprehensive baseline of what your breasts look like. Lisa spent several minutes walking me through what the mammogram would be like, and answered all of my questions. My biggest fear was the pain. We’ve all heard the horror stories about how painful it is to have your breasts smooshed and moved around, and that it was even worse if you had small breasts. Lisa assured me it would not be that bad, in that I had little choice other than to trust her. So, we got started.
In the interest of full disclosure: I’ve had two babies here, and I breastfed. Modest is no longer an adjective that describes me. So, while it was a little awkward having someone move the ladies around, it wasn’t really a big deal. And it didn’t hurt. At all. Again, I’m not sure if that has anything to do with all the breastfeeding, but at the debriefing I had with my friends after, the ones who had not given birth or breastfed reported more pain and discomfort than I. (This was a completely nonscientific study, unlikely to show up in a scientific journal anytime soon)
And then it ended. Less than ten minutes from the time we started. “That’s it?” I asked Lisa. She assured me it was, and that I would hear back in 10–15 business days with the results. All in all – total appointment was about 30 minutes. And that included a LOT of explanation/question time.
Once I left the UHC Radiology office, I was completely calm. As I sat in my office (after applying copious amounts of deodorant), I was contemplating which shoes to purchase with no real aftereffects to speak of.
About a week later I received a letter in the mail indicating that my breasts were spectacular (Okay, that isn’t exactly what it said, but it felt that way). No cancer, no concerns.
I’m ready for next year – and won’t put off the appointment at all. In fact, if you need someone to come hold your hand, or pry you out of your car, call me. I’ll help.
Learn more about Breast Imaging at The University of Vermont Medical Center. You can request a mammography appointment online.
Renee Dall is a recruiter at The University of Vermont Medical Center. She is also the founder of Cocktails Curing Cancer, a non-profit organization that hosts an event each year to raise funds for breast cancer programs, including the University of Vermont Cancer Center (www.cocktailscuringcancer.org)