When I turned 40 and it was time to schedule my first mammogram, I was hesitant to do so. I’ve heard many frightening stories about how painful and terrifying they can be, and I had a lot of questions.
Should I take a day off of work to mentally prepare? Should I not take a shower or wear deodorant the day of the appointment? Am I mentally prepared to accept the test results? Should I practice yoga poses before the procedure?
I was so nervous I researched on every website available, read every blog and watched every YouTube video until the mammogram was no longer my concern. Instead, I allowed the internet to diagnose me with all sorts of other illnesses and ailments.
So, many months after my 40th birthday, I finally drew up the courage to schedule a mammogram at MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. Surprisingly, the professionalism of the patient access representative calmed me immediately, and I scheduled the mammogram just four days later.
My first mammogram
On the day of my appointment, I had similar interactions with everyone I came in contact with. From parking to registration to the X-ray to meeting the nurse practitioner for the first time, the entire process was relaxed, organized and professional.
Of course, the mammogram was a bit uncomfortable, and yes, the machine was cold. However, the procedure was quick, and each image took only about 10 seconds.
The morning after my mammogram, the nurse practitioner called to tell me that the screening showed a “suspicious” area and asked that I come back as soon as possible. She indicated that the next visit would require both a mammogram and an ultrasound.
Before the end of our conversation, I went into a panic and immediately began thinking the absolute worst. Later that evening, I was reminded by my mother that regardless of what the results could be, I was at the right place and would be in the best hands at MD Anderson.
The next morning, I went to MD Anderson’sUndiagnosed Breast Clinic for the mammogram and ultrasound. Again, MD Anderson’s staff made me feel as if they were focused completely on me. I was not merely a medical record number. I was important. An important person with no idea what to expect nor what her test results would reveal. This attention was ever so important and should be the standard for every person experiencing any cancer screening.
What I learned from my first mammogram
Fortunately, the follow-up appointment revealed that everything was fine. After that experience, here are a few lessons I learned:
You should bathe prior to your mammogram. If you are like me and take showers in the morning, try and schedule an early appointment. Although it’s suggested to skip deodorant and beauty creams before the mammogram, your care team will appreciate you having a bath. Also try wearing a two piece outfit so that you only have to remove the top part of your clothing for the X-Ray. No yoga experience needed.
Don’t panic if you get a call back after your mammogram. An immediate follow-up appointment after your mammogram does not necessarily mean you have cancer, especially after your first mammogram. Your initial screening may reveal “suspicious” findings only because your doctors have no previous images to compare them to. Many times, extra views are needed because parts of the images were unclear and need further evaluation.
Taking care of yourself is the best 40th birthday gift you could ever give yourself. Remember, a mammogram is preventive care. The purpose of the screening is to find cancer at an early stage. When and if cancer is found early, the chances for successfully treating the disease are the highest.
For me, MD Anderson debunked every myth and made my first mammogram experience a significant milestone in life. My hope is that every person’s first cancer screening is as comfortable and memorable.