Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This is exactly what happens when you go for a mammogram

Here is the longer version of my story recently published at Thought Catalog. The full version was only suited for smaller corners of the Internet...

I went for my very first mammogram recently because I'm getting close to 30, insurance covers it, and sometimes my left boob is a little hurt-y. I realize that is TMI for many readers of this blog (hi Dad!), but I'm disclosing in the name of safety.

Because this was my very first mammogram, I was understandably nervous about the unknown details of the procedure. For how long, exactly, would I be naked? To what degree, exactly, would they be squeezing and shoving my boob into some freezing cold device? Do I technically have enough boob to be squeezed and shoved into said device?

Here, to help you move more gracefully through your own first mammogram, is exactly what happened at mine:

1. I found a failed parking meter five minutes prior and two blocks away from my appointment!! I took this as a sign from God that I did not have cancer.

2. My doctor's office - and perhaps yours? - is now using an iPad for new patients to enter in their medical history. Despite having an iPhone, it took me 15 minutes to complete my medical history on this device. It is worth noting that I do not technically have any medical history.

3. 10 or so minutes later, a Russian woman came to retrieve me. She called me Jessica, which made me feel older, more official, and like I looked like I had this mammogram thing totally under control.

4. The woman showed me to a dressing room and handed me a pink robe. She directed me to leave my bottoms on, make sure the robe opened to the front, and go sit the pre-procedure waiting room when I was done. Then she left before I had time to ask her my 145 questions.

5. For the next 8-12 minutes I hid in the mini room debating how, exactly, to tie the robe.
Man oh man that robe... First of all, it was too long to be a tunic but too short to be a cute dress. Also, I had foolishly chosen to wear a knee-high boot that day, throwing off the already disastrous proportions. And finally, none of the placement of any of the eight ties closed the robe in any logical manner. I tied and re-tied that thing ten times before I was content enough to leave the little room, and even then there was a gaping hole around my chest area, of the not sexy-peep-hole variety.

Note: Upon arriving in the special waiting room I discovered that the reason why the robes look like crap is because they're actually the ones that are meant to tie in the back. (some rookie didn't follow directions). Brand new iPads are a lot more affordable if you're stealing gowns from the hospital, aren't they...

6. Another 10 or so minutes went by before another Russian woman came to get me for the procedure. Her name was Oksana, and she actually did look like what Oksana Baiul might look like 17 years and 35 pounds after the '94 Olympics. As such, I believe it was her.

7. Oksana brought me to a room with curiously good lighting and instructed me to lay on my side. She then squirted a gel fluid onto my boob (which was blessedly warm) and proceeded to rub my boob using one of those x-ray sticks they use to tell pregnant women if they're having a boy or a girl. I did not laugh even though it tickled like hell. I remain very proud of this fact.

Now heeere's where things got tricky.

Oksana lingered around several areas of the boob and took what I believe were photos based on a camera-like clicking sound. I had a clear view of the monitor showing the picture of whatever results from the x-ray wand, but I was too afraid to look, so I just looked up at the ceiling the whole time and focused on not giggling.

After an amount of time that I felt was particularly long based on absolutely no prior experience with this process, Oksana gave me a towel to wipe off the remaining goop. She then said two things in what I believed to be a very grave voice: "Do you have any family history of breast cancer?" (I do not) and "I need to go review your films with the doctor." And then she left, rather quickly in my opinion.

And so I'm like, okay, I have obviously cancer.

Long procedure? Family history question? Immediate need to review films with the doctor? I watched six out of eight seasons of Grey's. I know imminent bad news when they're keeping it from you. This. Was. Bad.

I spent the next 15 minutes deciding how to tell my parents and outlining the book I would write once I kicked this thing! (it was a collection of humorous essays). I may or may not have also practiced my reaction to the news, out loud. I was going to go with a combination of, "oh god..." and, "are you sure?"

While the above paragraph is written in a comedic tone, there was NOTHING comical about sitting in that room for 10 minutes and waiting to find out that I did NOT, in fact, have cancer. As it turns out the doctor ALWAYS has to review the films and ALWAYS comes in to let you know the results.

Note to Mammography Offices: THAT'S a detail you want to share with your patients before the procedure begins. MISSION CRITICAL info folks.

After the doctor informed me that I did not have cancer based on the x-ray stick results, I asked her if Oksana was going to come back and get me for the actual mammogram part. After all that unexpected nonsense I was itching to shove my boob in the freezing cold machine and get outta there!

That's when I found out that I was only scheduled for a sonogram, not a mammogram. Apparently those are the preferred method of screening these days.

Note: I did end up seeing the mammogram machine inside another examination room, and it didn’t look that scary.


  1. I was reading this wondering if you knew there was no such thing as an X-Ray wand, and that you were actually having an Ultrasound.

    It's not that Ultrasound are preferred over Mammograms, you're just too young to have a Mammogram. Your breasts are likely too dense for a Mammogram to "see" anything (I would look all white) and Ultrasound is better for dense tissue. I had an 25 year old ex who found a lump, and they went directly to Ultrasound.

    Mammograms are still very effective and are becoming more effective by the year (Google "3D Mammogram" or Tomosynthesis). You will get one eventually, but when you're closer to 40. And no, the machines aren't that scary - a lot of smart people put in long hours designing them (I'm one of them..)