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Your first mammogram: 10 things to expect

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Megan what to expect photo.JPGBy Megan Silianoff

As a blogger and cancer survivor, I'm knowledgeable about various topics. My favorite television shows, for example, are an area of my expertise. I'm also very good at shopping and can navigate my favorite mall with poise and purpose.

And, when I got my latest mammogram earlier this month, I was reminded that I'm also an expert at getting this important screening exam.

So, first, I'll tell you this: While mammograms can be life-saving, they aren't fun. But learning about them "David Letterman" style could be. (Which is telling of my expertise in watching talk shows.)

10. Plan to wait in a separate waiting room.

I've had mammograms in a number of different hospitals, and they all have separate waiting rooms for people getting mammograms.

Immediately upon checking in for your appointment, they'll call you back, and you'll think, "I'm going to be in and out of here," but that's not necessarily the case. You're actually just getting called to sit in a different waiting room. This is important to know if someone plans to go with you because you won't see them throughout the entire process.

9. The nurse will take you to a locker room, of sorts, and ask you to undress from the waist up.

You'll get a gown that ties in the back. They'll let you keep your shoes and pants on.

8. They'll put stickers on your nipples and maybe other places on your breasts.


Just to keep things interesting. Or, as the official reasoning goes, so the technician can more easily identify your nipples and any moles in the final images.

7. It won't actually hurt that bad.


I mean, it's hard to say if a mammogram really hurts. Pain is so relative. It's more uncomfortable and embarrassing than painful. I feel like it's less painful than getting blood taken.

6. Expect to be called for supplemental pictures if you're in your 20s or 30s.


This doesn't mean they see anything bad. It just means you have denser breasts, and it's harder to see so they have to take multiple pictures.

5. Expect results sooner or later, depending on why you're there.

If you're getting a mammogram because your doctors found a lump or you already have another type of cancer, you'll get your results right away. If you are there simply for prevention,  you won't find out for weeks and it will be by the mail.

4. You'll need a biopsy if they find something suspicious in your mammogram.


Remember, just because they find something they need to biopsy, it doesn't mean you have cancer. I've had tons of biopsies, but have never had breast cancer.

3. Bring a snack, a book and some games.
There's waiting involved. If you're physically and mentally prepared to log some hours reading a book or playing a game, it will make the experience more pleasant.

2. You'll stand in front of a machine, and the nurse will position your arms in various positions.

There will be bars for you to hold on to, no matter what position you're being contorted into. One time I did a position resembling that of the shopping cart dance move, which was exciting for me.

1. Expect that if you're NOT getting yearly mammograms, I'm going to be mad at you.


None of this is glamorous. It's scary. But the thing about breast cancer is that it's all about early detection. If you detect breast cancer in the very early stages, it's a whole different ball game. You can avoid chemotherapy, radiation and all the other stuff that makes breast cancer so grueling.

Megan Silianoff is a 31-year-old writer/blogger living in Houston. When she was 28, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and most recently has undergone an excisional biopsy of her breast. After four surgeries in two years, she's in complete remission. For more about Megan, check out her blog Greetings from Texas and look for out for her memoir available later this year.

2 Comments

Megan, first and foremost I pray you continue to be a survivor of breast cancer. If you believe in God as I do, my prayers are with you always.

I would like for you to share pertinent information to continue to encourage women that shy away from a mammogram. Many women are unaware of obstacles facilities put in our way and deter many women from obtaining annual mammograms. The technology and their approaches have changed to encourage women to seek mammograms. More and more facilities are stepping out of the box and LISTENING to why women do not get these done. Please see below.

10. Plan to wait in a separate waiting room.

I've had mammograms in a number of different hospitals, and they all have separate waiting rooms for people getting mammograms.

Immediately upon checking in for your appointment, they'll call you back, and you'll think, "I'm going to be in and out of here," but that's not necessarily the case. You're actually just getting called to sit in a different waiting room. This is important to know if someone plans to go with you because you won't see them throughout the entire process.

Disagree:
My husband (or in some cases a friend if you want) did not leave my side and wore the special shield to be with me during the entire mammography. During the ENTIRE procedure.

9. The nurse will take you to a locker room, of sorts, and ask you to undress from the waist up.
You'll get a gown that ties in the back. They'll let you keep your shoes and pants on.

Disagree:
Many make you wear the tie in front. My facility allows me to wear the 1st gown that ties in front and a second one to use as a robe to tie in back. At the time I schedule the procedure, I have asked for complete 100% privacy and my husband and I are placed in a private room until I am called for the procedure. No stress about being in front of anyone else ever. All you have to do is ask. At some places you need to insist. If you do not care, they do not care.

8. They'll put stickers on your nipples and maybe other places on your breasts. Just to keep things interesting. Or, as the official reasoning goes, so the technician can more easily identify your nipples and any moles in the final images.

Disagree:
My facility allows my husband to place these on my nipples to respect my body privacy. If my Dr. every indicated to me I needed to have one placed on a mole or anything, we tell her where and my hubby is allowed to place the sticker. Again, I obtain 100% complete privacy from the technician and she does not look or place anything on me. She is there to take the x-ray ONLY and is not privy to any visual or overviews of my breasts. My hubby and I are adults and follow instructions very well. I do not want ANYONE else touching or looking at me and my facility supports this. Does it take longer, yes, but they are willing to work with me on this. Women need to find these types of facilities to suit their own needs. Some women could care less, some have been so abused they would rather forgo the procedure than insist on their facility to work with them.

7. It won't actually hurt that bad. I mean, it's hard to say if a mammogram really hurts. Pain is so relative. It's more uncomfortable and embarrassing than painful. I feel like it's less painful than getting blood taken.

Response:
Taking the embarrassment out of the picture (no one other than my husband sees my breasts or has to touch them at anytime during the procedure) has immensely reduced the PAIN I thought I would have. I am allowed to wear the gown they provide me, keep it tied in the front and have them do the digital photography with the gown ON and my breasts are COVERED with the gown with each picture taken. When I schedule the appointment a month in advance, I tell them specifically I will ONLY use a facility that does the “GOWN ON” photography. The technician straightens out my hospital gown. The gown does NOT interfere with the digital photography. Some technicians complain and/or try to convince me otherwise only because it takes THEM more time to do this. I will not be bullied about this.

6. Expect to be called for supplemental pictures if you're in your 20s or 30s. This doesn't mean they see anything bad. It just means you have denser breasts, and it's harder to see so they have to take multiple pictures. AGREE

5. Expect results sooner or later, depending on why you're there. If you're getting a mammogram because your doctors found a lump or you already have another type of cancer, you'll get your results right away. If you are there simply for prevention, you won't find out for weeks and it will be by the mail.

AGREE

4. You'll need a biopsy if they find something suspicious in your mammogram.Remember, just because they find something they need to biopsy, it doesn't mean you have cancer. I've had tons of biopsies, but have never had breast cancer. \

AGREE

3. Bring a snack, a book and some games.
There's waiting involved. If you're physically and mentally prepared to log some hours reading a book or playing a game, it will make the experience more pleasant.

Disagree: bring a friend or better yet your husband to spend the time with. If you make arrangements in advance, either can be with you throughout 100% of the procedure. The staff does not LIKE to do this but it NOT about them. It is about you being as close to 100% as comfortable as possible getting the procedure YOU are paying for completed.

2. You'll stand in front of a machine, and the nurse will position your arms in various positions. There will be bars for you to hold on to, no matter what position you're being contorted into. One time I did a position resembling that of the shopping cart dance move, which was exciting for me.

Agree – but remember, if you are modest which is why 67% of women do NOT get a mammogram done. Schedule in advance and talk to the lead breast technician about wearing the gown WHILE they are dong the mammography. NO one needs to be exposed. Find a clinic that enables you to wear the gown DURING The procedure. The reason they balk and give you grief is because it takes them at least twice to three times a long to get the gown straightened to their likening. The gown DOES NOT interfere with digital mammography. Example, a KUB is a Kidney, Ureter and Bladder digital x-ray. You are allowed to wear your underwear and the hospital scrub pants and shirt they provide. NO clothing needs to be removed and this is the SAME as a mammography. Do not let them bully you. It just takes them more time to prepare you and get the pictures they need.

Expect that if you're NOT getting yearly mammograms, I'm going to be mad at you.

None of this is glamorous. It's scary. But the thing about breast cancer is that it's all about early detection. If you detect breast cancer in the very early stages, it's a whole different ball game. You can avoid chemotherapy, radiation and all the other stuff that makes breast cancer so grueling. Agree with Megan and even though I do not know her, I wish her the BEST that life can offer her.

Agree:
But please know, if you are modest which is why 67% of women do NOT get a mammogram do to being exposed and 18% are concerned about the pain you endure during a mammography. We now have CHOICES. Women need to find a facility that supports THEIR feelings.

Sincerely,
Scorpian
27 year Research Analyst

I just found this today and I wanted to say thank you so much for writing this. I had a mammogram a week and a day ago. I have been worried they havent called me. I called my doctor it says in process. I have a puffy sore bump on my breast and I think its sore cause I keep touching it. I have had colon cancer before and guess I am hyper sensitive to the outcome of these test. I was really getting worried until I read this..and that it might take longer to get results. The tech who did my mammo said a week. So of course I have been panicking..thank you for this very informative article. You made me feel better about my situation. I hate waiting..but can do it now with less anxiety.. Sincerely Ramona S.

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