BOOBS. TATAS. BREASTS. We mamas have such a love/hate relationship with them, don't we? They change size. They make food. They get us LOTS of attention. And if you're like me, you get pictures taken of them regularly.
No, not in the Girls Gone Wild way (calm down, Dad). I'm talking about regular breast exams. Because breast cancer is most treatable when the tumor is small and presents no symptoms, now's the time to start thinking about a mammogram. It's not glamorous, but it could save your life. Just ask any breast cancer survivor.
You're wondering it's like, right? It goes a little something like this:
Step 1: Hello, Boobies, old friends! If you have a family history, a palpable lump, or notice a change in your breasts that concerns you, CHAT WITH YOUR DOC. (No family history? You're not off the hook.) If you have a gut feeling about it, but your doctor blows you off, FIND ANOTHER DOCTOR. I cannot tell you how many women I know who were diagnosed because they trusted their gut. Remember: This is YOUR LIFE. You're the boss. And you know your body best. The earlier you find a cancer of any type, the better your chances for a cure.
Step 2: Cups to saucers. Mammograms. Are. Awkard. You'll undress from waist up and wear a thin robe while you wait in pregnant silence with other women. Some are nervous because they're there for additional imaging. Some are flat-out terrified because it's their first mammogram after cancer treatment. And some are like you - first timers.
The good news is that mammograms are relatively quick. The nurse calls you back and then takes pics of each boob. We call it "cups to saucers" because your boobs will be flattened completely (LOTS of pressure) in a machine. If you are currently breastfeeding, *might* be pregnant, or have implants, be clear about this before the mammo begins. Although it might be the most uncomfortable photo shoot of your life - even worse than holiday photos - the nurses do their best to help ease the awkwardness.
Spoiler alert: even though you show your boobies for pictures, you do NOT get beads, like at Mardi Gras. Sorry, mamas.
Step 3: Wait. If there is nothing abnormal, you'll be told quickly. BUT if there is anything remotely out of the ordinary, you'll be scheduled for more imaging. DON'T PANIC HERE: THIS IS STANDARD PROTOCOL. Some boobs are dense. Some boobs contain calcifications which can either be benign or indications of very early cancer. And unfortunately, some boobs contain very obvious signs of cancer. Regardless of the reason, being called back for more imaging is 150% nerve wracking. When it happened to me, I panicked and rolled every possible scenario in my head.
Step 4: Testing, testing, 123. This might mean another "cups to saucers" photo or an ultrasound. It all depends on what the radiologist sees. Do not let fear keep you from making that appointment. If anything, let fear motivate you to get in ASAP. You'll likely go through Step 2 again but with more pictures. Seriously. People still want pics of your boobs. It's crazy, right? Most places tell you very quickly that either a) that your image is clear and check back in 6 months or, b) you need a biopsy. I had to do the latter, and once again, I got on the crazy train. Toot! Toot!
Step 5: DO NOT GOOGLE ANYTHING. Make the appointment. Follow the instructions they give you for prep. Get a friend to tag along, even if it's just to ride with you and provide small talk in the waiting room. I promise you'll be glad to have support.
Step 6: Cups to saucers + gymnastics. And a bigger audience. Prepare for the most awkward boob display yet. You might think that those God-awful-fitting thin robes they give you are bad, but they are nowhere near as weird as the process of a biopsy. For a core needle biopsy you'll go into a much bigger room with bigger machinery and what looks like a massage table. It has a strategically placed hole where (you guessed it) your boob will hang down for more pictures. The machine you see is going to take additional pics of the area in question and help guide the biopsy. The nurse will numb you, which is the only slightly painful part....Unless your doctor is remotely attractive or a personal acquaintance, which makes the whole introduction with your boob hanging down through a table super awkward and ultimately the worst part.
FYI: You still do not get beads or any prizes for showing your boobs. This policy needs updating, IMHO.
Step 7: Wait ... (again). It will seem like FOREVER. Distract yourself so that you don't freak out. Not knowing is the hardest part. If you receive good news, you'll still likely need to be rechecked within 6 months; your doc likely inserted a marker where the biopsy was done, so that future imaging shows the biopsy location. If you receive bad news, your doctor will want to meet with you so that you can begin a plan for treatment. Thankfully, breast cancer is now far more treatable than in the past, and you have many more options available for support - both personally and medically. Regardless of the outcome, you will be changed.
Mamas, I've done this. YOU CAN DO IT. My mom is a survivor of breast cancer (no previous family history,) and I'm thankful that her cancer was caught early. I pray that you never experience steps 3-7, but if you do, I hope your cancer is caught early, too.
Share this with a friend, and make a pact to schedule a mammogram today. Bring your own beads (BYOB) if you need to. Just do this one thing for yourself - and your loved ones.
For more info on breast cancer, check this out.