It was the best of times (I was turning 40), it was the worst of times (it was time to get my first mammogram). During my physical in November, my doctor told me to schedule my mammogram when I turned 40.
Following her instructions, I emailed my primary physician in January and by the end of the day I had an appointment scheduled for the next week. For the next few days, I thought about all of the comments I had heard over the years about how much a mammogram hurt. Despite what I had heard, I wasn’t nervous. I told myself that if I could give birth to a baby, I could do this. Nothing could hurt more than that.
The day of the appointment I made sure to put on extra deodorant (I didn’t want to make the tech suffer from my nervous sweating), threw on some comfortable clothes and drove to the medical center for my screening. I was quickly escorted back to the changing room and given a robe to cover my top half, a rubber band to tie my hair back and wipes to remove that deodorant I had been liberal with that morning. Once changed, the technician called me back into the x-ray room. I immediately saw the big huge robot looking thing that took over most of the small closet sized room. It had plastic paddles attached to an arm that rotated. The tech instructed me to step up to the machine and put my arm up in the air (I noticed the paddles on the floor and took great caution not to step on them, as I had no intention of injuring myself or my chest). The tech asked me to place my breast between two of the paddles and put my arm around the machine like it was my best friend coming in for a hug. When she was satisfied that I had contorted myself into the correct pose, she walked back to her control board and told me she would begin the process to take the image. The paddles started closing the distance between each other with my breast in between. At that moment I thought, this is going to hurt and I hope she doesn’t start rotating this arm because that will really hurt. At some point she told me to hold my breath and she snapped the picture. We then went through the process on the other side. Once all the images were taken, she dismissed me and told me that I would hear from the office in a few days.
To be honest, it didn’t even hurt. However, the waiting was probably the part where I began to get nervous. I know of one person in my family who had breast cancer, which was my paternal grandmother, and she survived. About two days later I received a phone call from the doctor’s office that there was a dark shadow on one of the images and that I needed to come in for a second x-ray. I made the appointment for the next day. That is when I started getting very nervous. I have not been the woman who checks her breast monthly, so I started doubting what I thought to be my normal breast tissue. I jumped online and googled how common it was to be called back for a second mammogram after the initial one. I found that it is common since the doctor does not have any previous images to compare. That helped calm my nerves a little bit. I also mentioned it to a few of my co-workers and my mom. They all reassured me that I probably had nothing to worry about.
The next day, I headed over to the medical center for my second mammogram. The routine was the same as the first, except this time I was prepared. I had my hair tied up and didn’t put on any deodorant (although I admit I had some in my purse to put on immediately after the mammogram). I had a different technician, but the process was the same; step up to the machine, boob goes in between the paddles, hug the machine, hold breath, picture taken. I only had to take the image of the one side, since the other side had returned with no abnormalities. The technician told me to take a seat and she would check to see if the radiologist had arrived yet (I had an 8 a.m., appointment). At this point I sat a bit nervous praying that there would be nothing found. After a few minutes, the tech came back and told me that the radiologist found nothing abnormal and that it was dense tissue. I thanked her and went to change. While I was changing, I said a quick prayer of thanks that nothing abnormal was found.
Thinking back on this experience, I would say that it was not bad at all. I didn’t feel any pain at all during or after. I was a bit worried when I was called to come back and retake the picture of one side, but as a result, I am now more educated about the process.
Lisa Hernandez was born and raised in Northern Virginia, where she continues to live. She is a long time employee of Northrop Grumman (22 years strong), with most of her experience in HR Systems. She lives with her two puppies and recently became an empty nester, when her daughter left for college.