I am pretty sure there isn’t a book written for women, facing this. There should be. With simple pictures and words explaining not just the physical procedure, but also how you may feel about what is happening to you, why you are having a mammogram and what you may be facing.
I had my first mammogram last week.
I am fine. Or at least I think I am, physically. I have no lumps or bumps in my boobs that are worrying me, and I religiously check them regularly.
I have, however, a family history in my maternal side of breast cancer, so now I am of “a certain age” that puts my risk factors higher, and whilst I do not carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene that can be a genetic trigger for breast cancer developing, there are other risk factors that mean that I am put into a category where I can opt to be monitored to make sure that anything suspicious or out of the normal can be acted on quickly and dealt with. I have always said that if we found that there was cancer or a possibility of it developing that I would opt for a mastectomy and reduce that risk, and I still stand by that. I don’t need my breasts, I do need to live to see my children grow up and to enjoy life and my future.
So, the letter arrived. I knew it was coming, my GP mentioned it would. It told me to arrive at the clinic and what to expectt and what would happen.
It’s not a painful experience (ok, that’s a lie, having your boobs pressed into a machine and having to stand still whilst the machine captures the images in not comfortable, but on a scale of having a dislocated knee re-positioned without medications or having a large baby with no pain relied, it’s not that bad, but not terribly pleasant) and you basically leave your privacy and dignity at the door, as you whip your boobs out and shove them in a machine, and then afterwards you lie on a bed and a stranger pokes and prods them and tells you how to check them (at least the specialist nurse had warm hands!!)
My new friend, or at least similar to my new friend I made last week.
But, it has to be done, and now I have done it once, and faced my anxieties about what would happen and the results, I am glad it’s over. At the moment, no one is concerned for my imminent health, this is just part and parcel of looking after me, and keeping me healthy. I won’t worry about the results unless they contact me and tell me I need to.
But it was a weird experience. It felt strange to be sat in a waiting room with the other women, some of whom, did likely have cancer or were waiting to find out if they did, and what kind and what happened to them. We all smiled weakly in a distant sort of way at each other. Strangers, but somehow linked by the tissue that dangles from our chests, that may cause us health issues or even kill us. We didn’t talk to each other, but we all knew why we were there.
Having to expose your body to a machine and a technician and then a specialist nurse you have never met before, was challenging. But again, you do it because you know you have to, and you are grateful that you can access this health service that is there to help you. You may feel it’s all a bit undignified and clinical, but you go ahead and brace yourself for a machine that squeezes your breasts because you know it’s worth the discomfort. You laugh with the nurse you hope you won’t see again about how she probably sees more boobs than a porn movie director, because keeping your sense of humour is key to making it through the visit without bursting into tears because “they might find something, and then what?”.
I don’t think anything can really prepare you for a mammogram and what may come of it. The leaflet they send with your appointment letter is very clear on what and why, but not how you will feel. The staff are lovely and kind and clearly good at their jobs, and passionate about helping women, but they can’t explain how you feel.
Breast cancer is something I hope not to face, but not something I can do antying to stop. I can however be as proactive as I can to watch for it, and act if I think I need to. So, I had my first mammogram this week and it was weird, but I am glad I did.
As part of this blog post I would encourage you to check your breasts. It’s never to early to start, and it doens’t hurt or take long. Please DO go and see your doctor if you have any concerns or worries or find something that doesn’t feel quite right. Breast cancer affects many lives, and you can do your part to look after yourself and watch for symptoms.
You can also go here for more information and support…