What to Expect at Your First Mammogram/ Sam’s Personal Story
(Totally fitting to share hair photos for this post as I did not take any during the mammogram. I was so concerned about losing my hair..yet alone my life)
Today is NATIONAL MAMMOGRAPHY DAY and I wanted to share a personal story with you all…
National Mammography Day is observed annually on the third Friday in October as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
This day serves as a reminder to all women that the best defense is early detection. A mammogram can often detect a problem before there is any outward physical sign. Make sure you get your regular checkups.
The story of mY mammogram…
Let me start off by saying, breast cancer does not run in my family.
A little over a month and a half ago I was experiencing a sharp burning pain in my right breast but completely ignored it and figured I pulled something in Pilates. The pain gradually got a little better but one night I was taking a bubble bath when I felt an unusual lump in my right breast when I was applying a sugar scrub. I had Lin check it to confirm that he could feel the lump too and he could. You guys….this was the worst most agonizing moment of my life. I couldn’t believe it. My mind started racing at 250 mph and I literally was freaking out. I made an appointment with a doctor the next morning and luckily she was able to see me within 24 hours. But that 24 hours must have been the longest 24 hours of my life. And I am here to tell you google is not your friend in dark moments like these. I was completely going nuts. I was a nervous wreck who hadn’t slept or eaten because all I could do was worry. Some moments, I sank to such a dark place that I was legit planning my whole funeral. And the thing that scared me most of all….was losing my hair and then of course losing my life at a young age of 38. I lost my mom to cervical cancer and could not believe that my family could actually be experiencing something like this again. It is truly the scariest thing I have ever been through.
The day of the appointment, I had my doctor perform a breast exam and, sure enough, she felt the lump. I was hoping she would just tell me it is some crazy pulled muscle thing from weights and send me on my way. But, no she confirmed it was a lump and would need further testing to make sure everything was okay. Gulp. Big fat gulp. Tears ran down my face. And I began to panic. She scheduled me for a mammogram but the soonest they could get me in was about a week and a half later. And that was a process in itself. They kept saying they had not received the paperwork from the doctor yet and the doctor’s office was insisting they faxed it over and it went like this for three days when I finally lost my temper. Luckily everything got figured out because I was seriously thinking I needed to conserve my energy for the battle that was ahead , not wasting it on just trying to get the freakin’ mammogram. (our health system is something else but that’s a whole other blog post)
My heart felt like it was in my throat the entire time but I tried my best to stay positive even though there were moments I was crumbling into a million little pieces. I couldn’t concentrate on anything except for this stupid painful lump in my right breast. This stupid painful lump that was about to change my whole life. This stupid painful lump in my breast that was going to cost me my life. I would never meet Zoë’s kids. I would never travel to al the countries I wanted to see. I started to feel so angry. And then I was so angry with the health system. Why would I have to wait a week and a half ? In a week and a half this thing can grow and get worse and worse. I felt hopeless.
I posted about this on my social channels reluctantly but I am so glad I did—well sorta actually because this is actually a double edge sword. You hear from the friends that have somehow became doctors over night offering their medical opinions because they have watched every episode of Grey’s Anatomy and think they are total surgeons. You also get the friends that scare you half to death and tell you that the Mammogram is the worst most painful thing ever or that it’s bad for you and you shouldn’t have one or they remember when their mom found a lump and died. (um..gulp-no..why would you tell me this right now?) and then the most painful part of it is you never hear a peep from the friends in your life that you really want to hear from. Or friends and family watch your Insta stories with this terrible news and yet never say a word. That’s fucking more painful than the lump in my god damn right breast. So I would day if you are ever in this situation proceed with caution on this one. For me I have no regrets. I think in times like this you learn who your real friends are! And you also gain new friends through this experience. I had so many supportive people reach out and share their stories with me. Some had similar stories. Some just wanted to let me know they were thinking of me. It varied from person to person. But the one person that really was my rock during all of this is a lovely girl named Katie that I meant on Instagram of all places. She walked me through the Mammogram process and everything after. She was so supportive and encouraging and I swear I will be forever connected to her in such a powerful way. There’s this amazing sisterhood between us now!
Had it not been for her and the research I did on line I wouldn’t have been prepared at all for my first Mammogram. The breast center here said nothing when making my appointment if you can believe that. Not one thing —like wear comfortable pants and a top as we will just be removing your top…(I had no clue if I was changing into a hospital gown or what) and not to wear deodorant because it affects the films. Or that it’s common that we might do an ultrasound too so do not be alarmed by that from a comforting point of view and a financial point of view. I am a cash paying patient you see so money and hospitals always are a stressful experience.
So I finally make it to the Mammogram appointment day! I am anxious, I am sorta sick to my stomach, but I am just ready to know and get on with my life whatever that looks like. It’s 7:30 and it’s a cloudy cold rainy day here in Tulsa…so fitting for my somber mood. I begin with the usual paperwork pile and then just sit in a waiting room reading a book. There are about 18 women and 5 men waiting also-the men being there with the ladies in their life. I was by myself but I was really okay with that. Nobody offered to come and I did not want to burden anyone by asking so it is what it is. My name is called and I enter a small room with a very kind lady who redeems the others on the phone when I was trying to make the appointment. She walks me through the “money portion of everything” and that’s when we have the ultrasound convo because she says whenever there is a lump they do both the mammogram and the ultrasound. Of course that’s and an additional $350.00, not really ideal but hey whatever at this point. My world was already sorta crashing down all around me so let’s just add the financial worry to all of this too, ya know?
So I can tell you this: yes, the women at The Saint John’s Breast Center are both kind and gentle. Not sure what happened over the phone but they redeemed themselves fully with me.
No, getting a mammogram doesn’t hurt. I actually would rather get a mammogram than a pap smear and I would totally get a mammogram any day over even sitting at the DMV. It was not bad and I was even pre menopausal so my breasts were super tender. I was terrified by the stories people told me and there was no reason to work myself into a frenzy. My nurse was wonderful!! And made me feel comfortable. It’s kinda weird how she has to hold the boobs and sorta cup them but again..that is so much better than a doctor sticking her fingers inside your vagina while having small talk. I do think it varies from woman to woman but just breathe and know whatever you are feeling is temporary and life saving. And if you can pull a splinter or shard of glass out of your own foot, you got this!!!
So in the X ray I can see that that terrible black lump staring back at me saying “well here we are Sam”. It’s such a unsettling sight.
I am taken to another waiting room wearing a hospital shirt and a blanket and asked to wait there for the Ultrasound tech. And I will tell you something about that room. There are several women wearing the same hospital shirt and blanket and nobody is saying one word to each other but there is this amazing sense of sisterhood. Some women are inhaling and exhaling loud enough that you can hear. Some women are playing with their fingernails. Some women are trying to fight the tears. And some women look just like me —scared like a deer in headlights. You hear women in another room bawling as they were just given terrible news and that part is really tough because you feel like you are next-like you are just waiting in line to be told you are going to battle and will need to fight hard for your life or die or that you might die anyway with or without a fight.
I literally was having an out of body experience here. How could this be happening to me? And why now? And what the fuck was I going to do??
All I could see was the pamphlets saying that say one in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. Why the fuck do they have these in this room BTW?
After what seems like an eternity, my name is called and it’s time for me to go into the Ultrasound room. My Ultrasound tech is very kind and patient as I am mess. I am crying like a baby -like ugly crying with snot all over my face and you can’t understand a word I am saying. She just takes me hands and says I got you and everything is going to be okay. I then proceed to cry even harder and ask her why she insists on lying straight to my face. True Story. She begins the Ultrasound and sure enough there’s that terrible dark lump again staring me in the eyes aannnndddddd there are two more that the mammogram films did not pick up. WTF. WTF. I am panicking. I am totally panicking-full on panic attack. I can’t breathe. I need something to vomit in. She calms me down and then says she is going to find the doctor to come in and have a convo with me. WTF. WTF. WTF. Omg-my next step is entering the bad news room and I don’t even have anyone with me to cry on. Total out of body experience happens again and I can see myself floating.
The doctor comes in ( a very kind older woman) She is holding my hand and looking at the screen and I am literally bawling again asking her how long I have to live. She looks at me and wipes the tears off of my left cheek and says sweetheart…I am not god but I can tell you today you will not be dying from breast cancer because these lumps in your right breast are cysts. You do not have cancer.
I literally cannot breathe only because I have worked myself up into such a frenzy and I am just overcome with emotion. We go over a plan of action for the cysts which would be to take Vitamin E every day and lay low on caffeine and chocolate. WTF. But OMG…I don’t have cancer. (And throughout the month I have met so many women in my life that also have dense breasts and cysts and I had no idea. They have shared their tips and tricks and promise they get less painful the older you get. They definitely let me know when I have too much caffeine too so Katie also said that they are a built in health monitor so silver lining ? I am a coffee addict but am really trying to survive on one tiny tiny cup every morning! )
I am so happy. But then I suddenly feel mounds of guilt as I am getting dressed getting ready to walk down the very hallway where other women are. I am relieved, but a bit closer to understanding what it must be like for women who receive different, darker news. And it makes me so sad.
Are you scheduled for your first mammogram? Have you found a lump?
Are you feeling Nervous?
It's pretty common to feel a little nervous about scheduling a mammogram, particularly if it's your first. Common concerns are the discomfort of the actual mammogram, and then waiting for the results. But with regular mammograms, doctors can detect small tumors at a much earlier stage – years before we can feel them – which significantly increases the opportunity for successful treatment.
Screenings for breast cancer save thousands of lives per year so schedule your mammogram today.
To all young women, I say: get to know your body and get to know your breasts. I think the only reason why I’m so comfortable is because I know what is normal for my breasts and I am confident I would recognize a change. You need to pay attention to your breasts. There are so many cases where women have gone to their doctors with big lumps because they’re not paying attention. They’re just putting on their bras and going about their days, or just not noticing the changes.
It’s also important to find a doctor you’re comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to change doctors. It’s a total pain, but once you find that right doctor who can sit with you and answer all of your questions, it’s invaluable to have that relationship. It’s like dating; you need to find the right person. Don’t stop until you’ve found that doctor.
Make the commitment. It’s about 30 minutes a year that you’re taking for this mammogram. A lot of young women don’t want to talk about mammograms because it makes them feel old or sound old. Or like they’re not cool. You’re not old when you have a mammogram, and it’s not the end of the world. Don’t fear it. Don’t dread it. Do it.
And girls, get those boobies checked!
Thank you for reading my story! Please personally reach out to me if I can be of any help to you on your journey!!!!! And please share your own mammogram story below!