October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so I'm rerunning an old post I originally published last fall.
This summer I got a birthday card from my health insurance company. "Congratulations!" it read. "You're 36! To help you celebrate, we'd like to pay for you to have your tender anatomy squeezed into shapes flatter than God ever could've possibly intended! Happy birthday!"
I'm kidding. It actually said something about "being responsible with your breast health," and "getting your first mammogram" and I thought with great thankfulness that I was glad my health insurance takes preventative women's health seriously.
And I also thought that I would've enjoyed a Sonic gift card a lot more.
But I'd been doing my homework, and I knew that having a mammogram in your mid-thirties is a very good idea, even if you don't have a family history of breast cancer. It hopefully gives you and your doctor a healthy baseline for later mammograms, in case future problems arise.
Since I know that many of you reading this are my age or younger, and maybe you've never had a mammogram yourself, I thought I'd use this as an opportunity to be frank with you about what a mammogram is really like. Knowledge is power, right? I'm kind of a wimp ("kind of?" says my husband), and I was a little nervous about the test. You hear horror stories now and then--were they true?
So here we go. Frankly.
In preparation, they tell you not to wear any lotions, perfume or deoderant before you test. (No worries on my end, though I'm not sure I can say the same for the moms around me at preschool drop-off). Deoderant can cause false positives, they explained, so it's an important guideline to follow. Another good piece of advice? Check your calendar and schedule your mammogram at the point in your cycle when you're least likely to feel tender.
I arrived at the House O' Squishing this morning. I checked in at the front desk, and they handed me a pink lapel ribbon and a pink bottle of water. Then I sat down on the pink sofa to fill out my pink paperwork while sitting next to a pink sculpture of two breasts.
Evidently, they were going for a bit of a motif.
The tech (would you like to guess the color of her scrubs?) called me to the back, and she had me undress from the waist up. She gave me a pink and white floral poncho for a cover-up, because you know that nothing restores your dignity like a pink and white floral poncho.
After I changed, the tech led me into the exam room, where two additional techs were waiting. There were three of them. Three? I gulped. Good grief, does it take three of them? Does someone have to hold me down? They must have seen my flicker of nerves, because they warmly laughed. The woman, who was clearly the Squisher In Chief, told me they were doing some training today. Squisher In Chief told me that she's a mammography educator who has been teaching at MD Anderson in Houston for 20 years. She was there to train the other techs about the latest techniques for "getting every possible bit of tissue in the scan."
Alrighty then. This sounds like fun.
Off came the poncho, and the (three!) techs applied (pink!) stickers. They're locaters, they told me, to help the radiologist know what's what. I think there's a punchline there, but you'll just have to go for it yourselves.
The scanner itself was not what I expected--you know, no skulls and crossbones or piercing, vibrating electrodes. It looked less like a torture device and more like a popcorn popper. The squisher panel (that would be the technical term) on top appeared to be made of acrylic, considerably less scary than, you know, the cement block I had envisioned. The corners were rounded, and the machine (despite the horror stories I'd heard) was pleasantly warmed.
Squisher In Chief began positioning me on the popcorn popper. There was no room for modesty in that scan room, but that's okay. These women were there to do a job, and that requires a good bit of, um, handling. The Squisher In Chief and I are verrrrrrry intimate now. But she was professional, and remarkably, she kept me at ease the whole time. And I felt some comfort in knowing that this was going to be thorough.
So. The moment of truth. The positioning was over and the squishing began. And you know what?
It was no big deal.
Even though the Squisher In Chief was there for extra thoroughness, and even though I'm a wimp, and even though (I'll be honest) I've had thicker pancakes than that...IT WAS NO BIG DEAL. The squishing was tight, but there was no pain.
They squished me four times (two on each side), and none of them hurt. The entire process, even with the extra training The Chief was doing, was done in under ten minutes.
When it was over, and I was straightening my lovely poncho, I told The Chief that I was a blogger, and I'd probably write about this. What, I asked her, is the one thing she'd like women to know about their breast health?
She didn't hesitate. "Tell them not to depend on just a mammogram or just a self-exam. The process is three-fold: they must have mammograms and BSEs and have manual clinical exams by a doctor. There are some tumors we can feel but can't see. There are some tumors we can see but can't feel. You must take control of your health and do all three, faithfully."
And there you have it, straight from The Chief. And I'm vouching for her, because she and I are verrrry intimate.
She went on to tell me that she had scanned women who were having their first mammogram in their 80's, because they had been too frightened to come in earlier. And I'm telling you, that is just a shame, because there is nothing to fear about a mammogram. Breast cancer would be way scarier than a little squish.
Call your doctor or health insurance company to find out what your options are, even if you're under 40. If you don't have health insurance, Google "free mammogram" or call your local hospital to ask what resources are available.
Be strong. Be squished.