Are you 40? My high school friends and I were all celebrating (or crying about) this big milestone that was looking us right in the face a few years back. Personally, I remember thinking ” I’m going to embrace my 40s as if they were my 30s”, but there was that little nagging voice that kept me humble, reminding me that I wasn’t going to be in my 30s anymore. To be honest, I was noticing some changes that were slowly happening. For starters, the extra weight doesn’t just come off if I cut carbs, my skin has a few more wrinkles no matter how many creams I use and how is it possible to hurt yourself while sleeping??
With all of that, the biggest reminder that I am getting older is when I called the doctor to set up my annual OB/Gyn appointment. Imagine the reality check when they told me I was due for a mammogram. You know…because I WAS going to be 40 and that’s what 40 year olds do. In fact, the American Cancer Society states that every woman over 40 should be examined for breast cancer once a year. If you’ve never had one, allow me to share my first time.
Scheduling The Exam
Just to be clear, I am aware that many women have mammograms before they are 40 (so please don’t wait if your doctor is advising one before 40). There are family histories of breast cancer, unknown medical histories due to adoption or early death of parents, and even issues that are found by self exams that should most definitely be checked out. When I was 36, my doctor at the time wrote a prescription for what was to be my first “base-line” mammogram. At that time, I was nervous to get one and because she didn’t tell me that I had to get it, I let that prescription sit in my wallet for 4 years! And then finally, four months before I turned 40, I put my big girl pants on and got the dang test.
I’m not really sure WHY I held off so long, but I’m assuming it was the awful “stories” I’ve heard about the test itself and the fear of the word CANCER that really kept me from going. I was afraid. And now that I’ve gone through it (for 4 years now), I could just kick my 36 year old self for being so silly. I’m also hoping that after reading this, you will realize that the procedure is NOT bad and it IS important.
What to expect
The day of the exam, I pulled up to my doctor’s office. I was greeted by the complementary Valet (yes…they valet your car) and then by the receptionist (who are also very kind). I originally thought my annual exam was first, but after I so delicately peed in a cup, I was sent down the hall to wait in a big comfy chair until the Tech called my name. Now, when you set your appointment up, they remind you that you should not wear deodorant or any lotions. So I was sitting there, nervous, sweating and wondering if I smell.
The technologist was a young woman, who was smiling and very friendly (this matters). I definitely didn’t want someone off putting and taking their bad day out on my breasts!
I told her I was nervous and she immediately started to talk to me about what to expect. When asked if I was an avid caffeine drinker, I thought, define avid? I mean…I NEED my coffee in the morning, and sometimes in the afternoon. She laughed and said that 1-2 cups is not a big deal. Why did it matter? Well, apparently if you consume a lot of caffeine you may find that you are more sensitive when they are compressing your breast (note this). I was happy to know that I was in the “not avid” group of caffeine drinkers.
I completed my paperwork which was your basic medical information and began to prepare for the test. There was a dressing area for me to remove my top and bra and slip on the fun paper (open in the front) top. The technologist explained the step by step while I stood in front of this huge spaceship looking machine. Even though the procedure sounded very simple, I couldn’t get the conversation I had with my 10 year old daughter out of my head. Her interpretation of what a mammogram was…. “So, it’s like turning grapes into wine”. Ugh.
The 3D Exam
First things first, times have changed. This is no longer the medical world of cold metal machines that make scary noises and sterile white, clinically drab exam rooms. We have evolved (thank goodness)! So much so that the standard 2D imaging for mammograms is now in 3D! Sadly, you do not get cool 3D glasses. However, 3D imaging does mean your doctors now have a BETTER image that is not flat. Now they can see so much more in one shot!! It’s called Breast tomosynthesis – A 3D mammogram. Hologic (a world leader in digital mammography) developed this technology. Your radiation exposure is below the FDA guidelines and it reduces the amount of “call-backs” by 20-40%! The MOST important piece is that it finds cancers earlier than the 2D alone! Really, something to celebrate.
Scary Machine? Not at all.
I stood in front of The Selenia Dimensions system which is designed to maximize patient comfort. The technologist helped to gently guide me in 2 different positions (forward facing and side position). Each time she gradually placed the plastic plate on my breast until it was compressed. There was a very mild feeling of pressure, it was not painful and did not pinch at all. In effort to get the best picture, she asked me to hold my breath twice as the X-ray arm swept in a slight arc over my breast. It takes multiple pictures in just seconds. Both sides took a few minutes total and it wasn’t uncomfortable at all. From start to finish, I was in and out in less than 10 minutes. Super easy and not scary at all!
Waiting for Results
Waiting for results is scarier. It’s really not something you look forward to after taking any test. The technologist told me I would receive a call about my results…good or bad. When I saw “Women’s Center” pop up on my caller ID the following week, my stomach dropped a bit. Fortunately, my test came back without any concern and a feeling of relief settled over me. Unfortunately though, this isn’t the same for many women. No one is exempt….our mothers, sisters, daughters and best friends. I’m pretty sure we have all known and loved someone who has had breast cancer. The reality of breast cancer is a serious issue and the main reason to get tested is that early detection and increased awareness is the best defense against it.
So ask your doctor about 3D Mammography, put your big girl pants on and take the dang test!
To learn more about 3D Mammography, click here
To learn more about breast cancer, click here