A few years ago, in my mid- 30’s, I noticed a hard knot in my breast. I asked Stephen to check it out in case I was imagining things. He definitely noticed it and that day started my journey to proactive breast health.
I do not have a family history of breast cancer, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore any signs like a hard lump.
I made an appointment with my gynecologist for ASAP. I saw my doctor and he was concerned and sent me to radiology for an ultrasound that afternoon (a Friday). I got called back the following Tuesday to make an appointment with my surgeon. I saw him 2 days later. He was concerned. I was in surgery the next morning for a lumpectomy.
The good news is that it was just a hard knot. The not-so-good news is that this will most likely happen again as it seemed I had the dreaded “dense breast tissue”.
Fast forward a couple of years. After my miscarriage, my breast size never returned to pre-baby size. It’s like they got stuck just waiting for more information to continue growing. How’s that for a giant kick in the teeth? No baby, but I got bigger boobs that bounce a lot when I run. Yay me.
Stephen is a lot more appreciative of the bigger bras.
Moving on, I noticed more lumps and knots in the short years after the miscarriage. Once the 40 year mark came, I knew I needed to get serious about screenings.
Sigh. If you say so.
So back to the dr for my yearly exam. He felt a few lumps. I had 3 that seemed pretty large. Based on that, my doctor ordered a mammogram and ultrasound. I had no idea then what a great thing he had done for me.
Here are the things I wish I knew before I went for my first mammogram.
- Do not put on any lotions, deodorant, powder, sprays, heavy soap residue, etc. That stuff can jack up your images.
- Wear the hair UP and out of your face. If you have really long hair, don’t just messy bun. BALLERINA BUN that hair. The reason is because you will get up close and very personal with a giant machine with moving parts and a radiology technician.
- Wear easy-to-change shirts. For that matter, just be as comfortable as possible especially if you have ultrasound orders.
- If you have a low pain tolerance, an advil or Tylenol an hour before your exam is okay. I didn’t find the actual mammogram (and I’ve had 6…in 2 yearly visits) to be painful. It’s just uncomfortable.
- It’s going to be cold. Your nipples will show up and fight for attention. Just be prepared.
- The actual mammogram is fast. Ultrasound and back to mammogram can take a long while. But so worth it.
Things I learned at my first mammogram.
- There is no point in trying to cover one breast while imaging the other. Fighting with arms and boobs and machines and a technician trying to waffle-iron tissues attached to your chest is ridiculous. Lose the gown. Just throw it off and get on with it.
- The technicians have boobs, too. They will not remember mine. They won’t notice one seems lower than the other (thanks to Stage 4 scoliosis). They won’t care about wrinkles or scars or cool tattoos. They are in the business of preventive life-saving imaging. They aren’t going to talk about your boobs at the bar later.
- Once I’m “done” with mammogram and waiting for ultrasound, I wasn’t actually done until I walked out of the clinic. The ultrasound technician found all my lumps and marked them. Then the doctor on call that day saw them. Then he ordered another mammogram. Then back to ultrasound. This happed both times I’ve had my yearly mammogram.
- I WILL ALWAYS WANT ULTRASOUND. While the process took a lot longer than the many women who were done in 15 minutes, I left the clinic knowing my breasts were okay.
- Getting the results in the mail felt like I won the breast lottery. I got the general “you have dense tissue so you’re at an increased risk of missing early stages of cancer. Know your breast lumps and examine regularly” letter. I’ve since learned that it is extremely common to get that letter and sort of common to get called back for another mammogram. With ultrasound, I didn’t have to wait for good news nor did I get called back.
- I also learned a new appreciation for my breasts. They are healthy and happy and I shouldn’t complain about buying bigger bras. I should enjoy them in their still-high-and-tight status. Gravity hasn’t found them, yet.
It’s not fun. It’s not easy to strip down for strangers to use cold hands to squish boobs in a squeezing machine. Nor is it easy to lie on a table with smelly goop slathered on both breasts while an ultrasound wand moves them all around, watching giant black holes appear on the screen.
But, peace of mind is more valuable the older I get. Enjoying exceptional health is becoming more and more of a luxury that young people take for granted. There are many things that develop in the aging years. Go ahead and check breast cancer screening off the list for this year. Do it now. Don’t wait for “after the holidays”.
Besides, we all know the “holidays” are all year long.
Oh, and a personal pet peeve of mine.
Stop with the “save the tatas/2nd base/boobs” nonsense. Save the lives of women. Let’s promote THAT.