Diary: My First Mammo
IstockphotoFrom Health magazine
When I was an underdeveloped 12-year-old stuffing wads of cotton balls into my training bra, I wrote this verse, titled, “A Request for Breasts”:
Puberty, come through for me! Pretty, pretty please?
Deliver me D-cups!
OK, Ill settle for Cs!
Cuz theres only one upside to being as flat as I am …
Ill never need a mammogram.
Puberty never came through with the massive mammaries. And while Ive grown up to see the truth behind most misguided convictions from my middle school years—for example, that a white, fringed-leather jacket is an asset to any wardrobe—I clung to the belief that a modest (OK, tiny) bust at least afforded me some leeway when it came to getting screened for breast cancer. I figured any growths would be quickly discovered during my monthly in-the-shower manual exams.
As with most of my youthful delusions, though, this had no basis in fact. Of course, breasts of all sizes are at risk for cancer. And this scary reality has hit very close to home: Both my maternal aunt and grandmother were diagnosed with breast cancer in their mid-40s and early-80s, respectively. So, because I have a family history of the disease, its even more vital for me to be proactive about my health.
But when I turned 35 and my primary care physician suggested that I get a baseline mammogram to which all future mammograms would be compared, I pretty much ignored him for a year. Why? Though Im much younger than my relatives were when they found out they had breast cancer, I was still afraid that the test would turn up something abnormal. This, I know, is the whole point of getting a mammogram in the first place.
But, apparently, Im not alone in my paradoxical no-news-is-better-than-bad-news approach. According to a University of Pennsylvania study, a breast cancer scare—even when it turns out to be a false alarm—can cause women to put off future screenings. Still, given my family history and the fact that I have a young son, I knew I couldnt put it off forever. “It cant hurt,” my doctor said in encouragement during a recent visit. I thought to myself, Oh yeah? Have you ever had your A-minus boob mashed into a silver-dollar pancake?!
The procedure wasnt painful, but it wasnt exactly pleasant, either. My technician, Jessica, handled my ta-tas with a deft touch, purposefully positioning each breast in the mammography unit, then gently squeezing it flat between the platform and a Plexiglas paddle. She chatted as she worked, which helped keep my mind off why I was there.
“Its unusual to see such dense breast tissue in someone who breast-fed,” she observed as she nudged my pointy nipples into position. “Having a smaller bust helps.” SCORE ONE FOR MY PERKY PREPUBESCENT BOOBIES! I cheered … until Jessica explained that dense breast material is often indistinguishable from tumors, making it harder to get an accurate reading. Thats why many doctors advise low-risk patients to wait until theyre 40 when their breast tissue is, um, less dense. “The technical term for saggy,” cracked my friend Alyce, who is a 32C.
Her joke shed light on the final, most irrational reason Id been reluctant to get screened: A first mammogram is a rite of passage, and I had trouble accepting that I was old enough to qualify. As milestones go, its less fun (and more stressful) than getting a drivers license or buying that first beer. But Im glad I did it, especially because the results came back normal. If, for whatever reason, I need to go back before Im 40, I wont delay, because knowing the truth is always better than not knowing. And for that peace of mind, a few minutes of boob-squishing discomfort is a small price to pay. Very small in my case.