Gentlemen, this post is not for you. You can read it, but you’re moving forward at your own risk.
I got my first mammogram last week. I’m not worried about the results. I have no history of breast cancer and I’m pretty good about self-examinations so I know where all my normal lumps are, but I figure if you’ve never had one, I can tell you what you might be in for.
Some doctors recommend getting your first mammogram at 40, some recommend 50. I’m 45, which is technically middle-age—yes, my 40-something year old friends, we are middle-aged, deal with it—so I figured I would split the difference and get this mammogram business out of the way now while I have health insurance.
On the day of your test, don’t wear deodorant or powder—two things I wear on a daily basis. (Mm-hm. I wear powder like an old lady. If you have larger breasts, you know why. If you don’t, well, whatever. It’s something the endowed crowd does. And, if you’re endowed and don’t wear powder, let me tell you something: It is a game changer in the summer or after you’ve worked out.)
Getting a mammogram isn’t all that bad. My technician at Martin’s Point in Brunswick was both efficient and pleasant. She explained the procedure to me, made sure I was comfortable emotionally, and was super chatty like we were at a cocktail party and we were both chewing up some time while we waited for our real friends to arrive.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. She totally manhandled me the whole time, but the best way I can describe it is that it’s like folding your underpants with a friendly stranger at the laundromat while getting your teeth x-rayed. It doesn’t hurt, but it isn’t pleasant.
Be prepared for someone (and, honestly, I’m not squeamish, but it’s got to be easier with a woman) to push your lady pillows in all kinds of directions. Your goal is to get your breast to sit on a metal shelf so the technician can then lower a metal plate over it and flatten out the tissue.
This means you need to get really close to the machine. And you might have to get on your tippy toes to really get the angle. My technician took two images of my left breast and three of my right (hold your breath and done).
And voila, it was over. The whole thing took about 20 minutes, including the time it took me to get undressed, remove my deodorant and powder with a sani-wipe, and put my clothes back on.
I feel badly for the ladies who are in shape and don’t have fat to buffer them from the machine. It’s an intimate experience—you are literally embracing the machine like a lover who refuses to yield for even a second or like you’re a rhesus monkey embracing your wire mother.
Ew. Lover? I hate that word.
I have a friend who exclaimed loudly at a restaurant that she would prefer to get five pap smears from the line cook in the kitchen than ever have another mammogram. This woman is gorgeously small with tiny little boobies so a mammogram might be a challenge for her. My breasts and accompanying fat wrap around to my back so there was plenty of material for the technician to work with. My rib cage did jam into the machine, but it was only for a moment. If I were lacking the fat buffer, it may have been more painful.
I thought I might get weirded out thinking about the possibility of the radiologist finding a lump and how difficult it might be to wait to hear I have an all-clear, but that isn’t happening. At best, I’m just sort of reviewing the mostly uncomplicated relationship I have had with my breasts over the years, a couple of old friends I sort of take for granted.
I am well endowed as I’ve mentioned, primarily because I gained a pant-load (literally) of weight after age 30 and my breasts carry more than their share of it. When I was in my early 30s, my friend Hugh asked me whether I had breast enhancement and my friend Julie stage-whispered across a table of ten people at an MS fundraising luncheon, “Are you pregnant?!”
So, yeah, they grew fast and big. I went from a 32B to a 36D in about two years. In those two years, I changed from someone who would happily, gleefully, and enthusiastically smoosh my bare chest against the outside pane of a picture window that faced a bar full of people* to someone who holds her arm or hand over her cleavage during dinner conversation.
And, apparently, it transformed me into a person who refers to herself in the third person.
I never had a training bra. Well, I had something akin to a training bra. I found a white elastic thing with cups in my older sister’s drawer and strapped it to my body in the 8th grade. It wasn’t the right size and whenever I reached over my head, the bottom strap would slide over my chest and the entire thing would rest itself comfortably on my collarbone. Instead of mentioning this to anyone or seeing about getting myself my own bra, I learned to never lift my arms. It ended up being good training for later when I would forget to shave my armpits.
If you haven’t had your first mammogram yet and you’re 40 or so, it’s your call. Talk to your doctor. You’re going to have to do it at some point and if you can afford it or have the insurance, I don’t see a downside. Just be prepared for a callback from the radiologist because he or she will likely see some mass of some type and they’ll want to rule it out as they create a baseline for future mammograms. Until they drop the Big C bomb, don’t let it get to you.
*I went to dinner a couple of years ago and a waiter at the restaurant who used to be a regular at the bar that owned that picture window saw me and shouted “Fried Eggs!” It was both my highest and lowest moment ever.