What to Expect From My First Mammogram

Oh hey I got my first mammogram today!

At age 35, I was actually long overdue for my first mammogram, considering my family history of breast cancer (maternal grandmother, mother, maternal aunt…).

But today, I finally picked up my skirt, grabbed my balls, and got myself to the radiology lab.

How to Prepare for a Mammogram

If you’ve been ordered to have a mammogram by your doctor, you’ll call and make an appointment wherever your doctor refers you (or, if you have strong feelings, to the radiology center of your choice).

The radiology center will schedule your appointment, and give you one key piece of information:

Do not apply lotion, powder, or deodorant before your mammogram.

This point was driven home to me several times.

Also, it’s a good idea to wear an outfit comprised of a separate top and bottom. No dresses, jumpsuits or overalls. Wear jeans and a t-shirt (or if you must, a blouse).

I was also asked to bring the doctor’s order for the mammogram with me. I forgot, but you shouldn’t. Bring the referral/order from your doctor’s office!

When You Get There

After doing the usual rigamarole of checking in, filling out forms, and (in this time of Covid) having your temperature taken, you’ll be asked to wait.

When you’re called in, the radiology technician will ask you to undress from the waist up and put on a robe that opens in the front.

It’s always super awkward to walk around wearing a garment that’s liable to flap open and expose you to strangers, so try to keep your sense of humor. Heck, have a little laugh and flash someone in the hallway!

(I’m just kidding; don’t.)

The radiology center I went to specializes in mammograms, and was staffed exclusively by women. This made me feel a lot more comfortable. If this is a concern of yours, call ahead and ask if you’ll be seeing a male or female technician.

The Mammogram Itself

The technician called me into the room. She had already introduced herself to me, and she was a very calming, reassuring presence.

She was clearly a seasoned professional and knew that this could be a frightening and emotional time for her patients. She did a good job making me feel as comfortable as possible.

The technician put a lead apron around my waist, and when directed, I was to remove one arm from the robe and approach the machine.

The mammogram machine reminded me a bit of old dental x-ray machines. It’s a vertical machine with a kind of tray sticking out of it.

On this tray, the technician places your breast. She asks you to stand just so, so that the maximum amount of breast tissue is on the tray.

There’s a lot of pulling and prodding at this point, and your breasts will be manhandled (or, in my case, womanhandled). It’s uncomfortable, but it’s normal. The technician then smooshes the breast down with another tray lowered from above the first.

It is not comfortable. Your boob is squooshed like a pancake between these two plastic trays, and you have to stand, holding your breath, while the technician takes the image.

Then, she has to take the vertical image. That’s the worst. The whole tray part of the machine rotates to about a 45 degree angle and your breast is then compressed somewhat vertically.

This one was especially uncomfortable for me, and the pressure caused such pain that I gasped and had trouble holding my breath for the duration of the imaging.

Luckily, the whole process is quick, and as I said, the technicians are professionals who (hopefully) are good at setting people at ease.

The Ultrasound

Then, the doctor came by and said that as this was my first mammogram and because I have dense breast tissue, she wanted to be extra sure all was well and do an ultrasound.

The ultrasound was very much like the ones I got while I was pregnant, just higher up on my torso!

(And the ultrasound gel they squeeze on was kept in a warmer–a very nice touch!)

The doctor followed the same pattern as I do when I do my home breast exam: she moved from out to in on the breast, going around in a circle to check the whole surface.

The Results of the Mammogram

You’ll get your results before you leave the radiology center.

If you’ve been told you have cystic tissue or dense tissue, you may want to make sure you’ve gotten a 3D mammogram. These will ensure lesions or tumors aren’t lost in the dense tissue.

In my case, the technician came back and said she had to get one more image from my left side, but after that the doctor took a look and was satisfied that all was well.

I was sent home relieved and happy, with an order to come back in one year’s time.

What To Do At Home

In the meantime, I need to be a lot better about doing my home breast exams after each period.

How can I remind myself to do them?

Any ideas?

Waiting, waiting, waiting

I went.

I listened to my mother’s voice nagging in my ear. I listened to the kind and concerned advice from family and friends.

I went to the gynecologist.

The Diagnosis

Well there wasn’t really anything to diagnose, but the doctor did have a couple of concerns.

His first priority was that I schedule a mammogram (my first). From now on, I will have to do them every year.

His second priority, upon looking at my family history, was to recommend the genetic test for the mutation of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

Luckily, my insurance covers the test and they were able to take a blood sample right there in their lab.

What This Means

First off, I have to wait three weeks to know the result. That’s hard.

And secondly, the result terrifies me.

If the test is negative…

It could mean very little. My mother tested negative, and she still got breast cancer.

Her cousin had it, and she also tested negative for the gene mutations.

According to the CDC, “most breast and ovarian cancer is not caused by genetic mutations” anyway. So getting a negative result doesn’t mean I won’t get breast cancer.

Hardly comforting.

If the test is positive…

I guess if it’s positive at least we’ll know, right?

If the test is positive, then we can start looking into options and discussing possibilities.

Maybe it would just be easier if the test came back positive. It might make things more straightforward.

A Terrifying Emotional Load

A friend very eloquently said that all this comes with a terrifying emotional load.

I couldn’t have described it better.

Knowing my family history as I do, it almost feels like there’s an expiration date stamped on my butt.

Use by June 2050

Feeling that way can sometimes spur me into action (Life is short! Grab the bull by the horns!) or freeze me into depression (Is my life already more than half-way over?).

And I can go back and forth between the two (and be anywhere in between) several times in one day.

Talk about a rollercoaster.

Is this what a mid-life crisis looks like?


65. Telephone: Write about a phone call you recently received.


Most of the phone calls I get are spam bots. But I have been making a lot of phone calls recently.

Mostly to doctor’s offices. The pediatrician, the GP, the dentist.

The gynecologist.

Yup, that’s right! I’m writing about the gynecologist!

(Don’t worry, there won’t be any gory details.)

Tomorrow, I have my first gynecologist appointment in nearly three years. I know, I know, I shouldn’t have left it that long!

The last time I saw the lady doctor was six months after our Bear was born. When the following year rolled around, life was crazy. We were planning our move from Germany, and I just never got around to it.

And since then? I’ve been putting it off, I’m not going to lie.

My mother died of metastasized breast cancer.

So did my maternal grandmother. Another maternal family member has been diagnosed.

Yeah. I know.

I’m 35. It’s time I at least started getting mammograms. And, as my very best friend (who is a physician) has told me more than once, I should get the genetic test done.

But honestly?

I’m terrified.

I’m terrified that I will learn to feel afraid of my own body.

In moments of extreme worry, I think of Angelina Jolie and wonder if a doctor is going to recommend I do the same.

So, if I’m honest, I don’t think about it.

I push it away from me and call it “living in the present.” I’ve even been known to go long months without doing a quick self breast exam.

I know.

It’s probably not something I should be worrying about. But it is something I should be monitoring.

Which I have not done up until now.

I’m pretty good at living in denial. (It ain’t just a river in Egypt!) But continuing to do so would be irresponsible. I have a family. I need to be proactive and take whatever preventative measures the doctor suggests.

But I’m still scared.

And if I’m honest?

I miss my mother most at these times. Though God knows she’d administer the dope slap and tell me to get to the gynecologist.

I can just hear her. “Jane. Get over it. Go to the doctor.”

Okay, Mom, okay. I’m going.