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The Mammogram Experience

Recently I called and asked the mammography technician some questions, with one being:  “Don’t most women find this procedure uncomfortable?”  Her answer was excitedly “No!!  90% of them are comfortable with it.”  I wanted to reach out and slap her for lying!!

Now, I know a lot of women, although I don’t know every woman in my town, in every state or in every country, but those that I do know and spoken with, have all agreed with me that this procedure is not what we look forward to each year.  Some find it tolerable, some uncomfortable while others find it painful like I do.   I personally find that it is painful, abusive and in my opinion, inhumane.

First you arrive, being greeted by a smiling receptionist, who asks you to take a seat and wait comfortably while you wait for the intake person.  Another woman might arrive while you comfortably wait.  You cordially say hello, maybe even joke slightly about what we are in for.  Then your name is called, and you proceed to the desk where they ask you a few questions in reference to your insurance and some medical information.  They ask about medications, and recently I stopped giving my list of supplements, few medications and surgeries, except if they pertain to the upper region where it might affect how they position me.  As much as I hate this procedure, I do not expect that I am going to need any medical attention.

Then they smile as they lead you to the chamber room to undress from the waist up, reminding you that if you forgot NOT to wear deodorant that you now need to remove it.  It doesn’t matter if you wore deodorant or not, because at this point you need a towel to remove the nervous sweat from your underarms.  Then they hand you a clean pink gown, a key on a wrist band so that you can lock up your push-up bra, shirt, and any other precious clothing you might be wearing from the waist up, along with your purse, and you are asked to take a seat when you are done changing.

To make your wait more tolerable, they give you a clipboard with this questionnaire that if it is not your first time, you will find it is repeat of prior years of when you filled it out.  I guess there is a part of me that rebels at the idea of answering, and I want to ask, “Why on earth do you need to know all this stuff?  Your job is not to evaluate me as a patient you plan on caring for, but rather to do the exam as requested by my physician.”  I’m thinking, that if my physician felt they needed to know all this, he would have certainly sent the pertinent information over ahead of time.

This questionnaire, for which I have been told is for survey purposes, has a variety of questions.  I can certainly understand anything related to your breasts to be important, but family history including the men in ones’ family (some facilities ask this) has me a bit confused.

Pregnant?  I love the option of “I don’t know”.  I’m thinking Immaculate Conception?  I do believe that God has the miraculous ability to change my body back to my former years, yet since He hasn’t done so, I’m thinking that the answer to this is a probable “no”.

When did you have your first period?  Seriously?  I had to think long and hard about that one when I first went to my gynecologist, never mind when I changed to a new one, and now you want me to go back over 35 years to remember this?  Isn’t that a moment in a girl’s life you want to forget?

Are you still having your period and when was your last one?  Are you asking because you want to know if I’m pregnant?  1st, it is none of your business and 2nd “No, I’m not pregnant” unless of course God did that miraculous work on my body to allow some seed to grow and nourish.   I will humbly guess that my answer is still to be a “no”

Then they want to know if you have gone through menopause, whether you had a hysterectomy and had your ovaries removed.  Seriously, is this procedure about my breasts or my uterus?  At this point I am really happy that they don’t take my blood pressure, because I am a bit annoyed at this point.  It is NONE of YOUR business!!  Plus, the first time I filled this out, a bit naive as to what I was in for, yet now less naïve realize that they have all the answers.  They just don’t want to go find them.

Are you on birth control or hormone replacement?  First, this is between my physician(s) and my husband.  I don’t think it should really matter considering that with all the hormones in foods today, who is NOT on hormones?  By the way, have you seen the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” where she backs into a younger woman’s car numerous  times, who took the spot she was patiently waiting for?  Now that is a women in serious need of hormones!  I’m starting to feel that same emotional frustration right now with this questionnaire, but I will reserve myself.   What is the name of the hormone or birth control?  “Seriously?”

Have you ever been pregnant?  Well, when you take a look at my breasts, you will be able to answer that one on your own.  Sure, I exercise and do my best to keep them pretty and perky, but breast-feeding has this gravity effect on most women.  That is why I love my push-up bras that lift and separate, and why it was important for me to lock that bra up before playing dress-up in this gown.  Can’t afford to lose that $50 article of clothing!

How many live births have you had?  I was alive for them all.  How old was I for my first and last?  Well now, lets not make the middle child feel left out here.  I just don’t feel right excluding that child, as a mom never wants to make one child feel less important than the other.  Sorry, I can’t answer that one.

Now back to my wanting to understand why the questionnaire at some facilities needs to know about ones’ father, uncles, brothers or grandfather, on whether they had breast cancer or not.  It is rare that one even finds out that a man has breast cancer because they are not annually checked for this, as it is linked to the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.  They are also not required to go through the crushing chamber of breast deformation.  Which by the way, in my opinion, is another reason why women need to wear supportive bras.  Personally, although with no scientific evidence, I feel that this procedure stuns the muscle tone for a year, where you are then required to return.  So much for the workout of trying to get them back to pretty and perky, so bring on the push-up bra.

But, I do feel if a man was required to undergo this procedure, at least once to experience this exhilarating moment, there might be more support in making some changes.

It is not just a matter of one having their breasts placed onto two clean, cold, glass plates and gently pressed to have an image taken.  Although my breasts are not petite, they are also not large.  As they put the breast onto the plate, they then start “pulling” skin from my back to bring it forward so that they can get “all” the breast tissue.  I feel like a chicken being skinned for dinner!  They show slight compassion if you shed any tears and tell them it hurts, as they remind you that they need “all” the breast tissue.  You are then asked not to move and not breathe as they press the button to compress.

Please understand, I honestly believe that one should maintain good health, a healthy weight, exercise routinely, and see ones’ physician at least once a year for annual exams, tests and blood work, including mammograms.   This alone is a step towards being healthy and cancer free.  Mammograms serve their purpose and have proven to find cancer that are not found at home or annual exams.  I have just come to a point in my life that the mammogram has become intolerable.  I leave grumpy and in tears due to the pain and insensitive nature in which I feel I am being treated.   I am very fortunate though to have a gynecologist who is sensitive enough to appreciate my discomfort, and support me as I seek other alternative options, yet gently shows concern when I choose to skip a year.

I would honestly like to know, how many woman find this procedure tolerable.  I do not believe that 90% of women do not find it uncomfortable or not painful, as shared by a technician I spoke with.  But, I do know women who will not go in to have it done due to the pain, which means the technician’s statistic is faulty.

Unfortunately, in my search, the alternative options are either not payable by one’s insurance, or you are told it is not a proven option in comparison to the mammogram.   MRI’s are reserved only for those who have a high cancer risk, which can include those with unhealthy life style habits.  Yet, it is noted at the cancer.org site that 85% of women who get cancer, do not have any risk factor.  It certainly makes one wonder why the mammogram is pushed yet the MRI is reserved.  Well, let’s be honest, the cost comparison is unfortunately dynamic.  http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-risk-factors

Although I find that sometimes I need to find humor in the things that don’t make sense in life, as shown above in my post, I do feel it is important for one to be an advocate for ones’ health.  By being open and transparent with your physician(s) they are then able to help you stay healthy.

It is also important for you to be aware of your cancer risks, to eat healthy, lose weight if necessary, stop smoking, drink moderately, and find a way to enjoy life, which will also reduce the stresses in ones’ life which has proven to be a pro-active lifestyle choice towards being cancer free.

Be healthy, laugh often, love always,

Laura

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