By Rachel Solow
A warm-hearted technician helped the author through a scary rite of passage.
Over the last 10 years, as I journeyed through my thirties, so many ‘marvelous’ things have happened. Grey hair, my metabolism changing from ‘not so great to begin with’ to ‘that of a bag of rocks’, the constant, and I mean constant, ticking of my biological clock (if you listen closely you can probably hear it right now) and now that I have turned 40- my first mammogram.
If you’d like to read on, I’d like to share that experience with you. I’m sure I am not the first to face this milestone with a sense of anxiety and- depending on my hormonal level that day- sheer terror. The fact that I never really heard anyone say anything good or pleasant about the actual process, coupled with what some might call my overactive, okay, downright dramatic, imagination- I basically had myself truly afraid by the day of the appointment. I had been squashing, smooshing, and squeezing my breasts for 2 weeks- trying to prepare myself for the vice grip of the mammogram machine, which would surely leave my otherwise ‘plump’ breasts bruised and battered, and flattened like pancakes. I was convinced I would walk out of the radiology room in tears, traumatized and in pain. (Mind you, I have been reduced to tears from things like DirecTV customer service, and my hot water heater breaking- so I do have a tendency to make mountains out of molehills, but I knew for sure this time that they were going to make my mountains, well…… as flat as molehills.)
But here is what actually happened: my appointment was at the Bob Hope Health Center in Los Angeles. The mammography technician- Ce Ce- who has been doing what she does for 10 years at this center– greeted me with a smile and warm hands (a definite plus). She asked was this my first mammogram, and when I told her it was- she spent the next 15-20 minutes explaining the structure of the breast- complete with diagrams, as well as a detailed explanation of what the mammogram would be: positioning, technique, amount of radiation, and how long it would take. She told me how and why to relax my neck and shoulders during the mammogram, along with information about the importance of yearly mammograms, and the disturbing statistic that 1 in every 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Like with most things, early detection is the best defense.
She also asked me a series of questions about my medical history, as well as if I had experienced any breast change. She laughed when I told her that my breasts had decided to head south instead of west, and had taken on the characteristics of two sand bags. She said that was gravity and did not fall under the guidelines of ‘cause for concern’ (to be more specific- she was asking about real changes in the appearance, texture, size, or shape- which can be a sign of something more serious).
One of the most valuable things she told me was that 40% of all women get called back for additional X-rays following their first mammogram. This is because they do not have a normal comparison for you yet. She said if I did get called back, it did not necessarily mean that something was wrong, they may just need a closer look.
At that point she did the actual X-rays- four total, two angles on each breast- which took a total of about three minutes. Armed with the knowledge she had provided me, I was completely relaxed at that point and that can significantly reduce any discomfort that may occur. Was it awkward? Yes. Was it uncomfortable? I suppose. But it was not painful and there was no soreness, no bruising, and no tears.
So I wanted to share this for a few reasons. First, to acknowledge the truly immeasurable empowerment that occurs when you have a wonderful mammography technician like Ce Ce that cares enough to explain the procedure and address all your questions and concerns, and a facility like Bob Hope Health Center, that allows her the time she needs with her patients. Second, to possibly, hopefully, encourage someone who may have been putting off getting her mammogram–based on fears similar to my own–to ask questions, get answers, and get screened, and lastly to provide some links for anyone looking for information on breast health and/or breast cancer: www.cancer.org
Just in case you were wondering, I did receive a call the next morning from my doctor, letting me know that I need to get some additional X-rays (a diagnostic mammogram vs the screening mammogram that I had done) because there are some faint calcifications that showed up. While that is a little scary and somewhat unnerving, I cannot imagine the five-alarm code red panic level I would be feeling if Ce Ce hadn’t told me that a call back was common.
So please, for yourself and all those who love you- stay healthy, be informed, and whether you have mountains, molehills, or anything in between- get your annual mammograms started at age 40 as recommended by the American Cancer Society.
“The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” (Bertrand Russell)
Standing on my soapbox,