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Mammogram :: A Guide

First, a bit of backstory:

About a month ago, I started having pain in my right breast. It was noticeable and lasted long enough that I got it checked out by my OBGYN (it also coincided with my menstrual cycle, so I was a little concerned that it was hormonal). Anyway, neither my doctor nor I could feel any lumps or anything else that would indicate cancer. She told me that if I was still having pain in a week or two to call back. Over two weeks later (I really wanted to be sure), the pain was still there. A constant ache in the lower/outer side of my right breast. It kinda felt like I had a clogged duct all the time, even though I haven't breastfed for at least a year and a half. Long story short, my doctor decided the best and safest course of action would be to schedule a mammogram. Just in case...

(For anyone worried at this point in the story, I'm fine. Apparently breast pain is relatively common. They want me to take Vitamin E and give up caffeine. We'll see about that last part. Seems like a bad idea to give up caffeine in the middle of a pandemic.)

What to Expect When you Get a Mammogram:

** So I got mine during the time of COVID. But I'm not going to focus on the being given a mask when you check in, the social distancing, etc. I'm just going to pretend like I had this during normal life.

** Also, a note about the images. It didn't even occur to me to take pictures of any of this. Plus, I was wearing a giant mask so you couldn't have seen me anyway. Luckily, two of our amazing writers agreed to let me use their pictures for this post!

After I checked in, filled out all the paperwork, etc. I was put in to a changing room. You have to take off everything from the waist up and put on a (surprisingly nice and fluffy) robe. They also provide single use wipes for you to wipe off your deodorant from your armpits. You get a locker for your clothes but hang on to your purse. With everyone in robes, the whole experience was a little like being in a weird spa. I assume it wouldn't be so spa-like in the winter, but it was in the 80's when I went and everyone was wearing shorts or skirts that you couldn't see under the robe and sandals.

kristi getting a mammogram

After all of that is the main event: the mammogram. Now I had ABSOLUTELY no clue going into this what to expect. But my technician seemed to think that I did know. I mean everything was fine, but it was a little weird to receive minimal assistance when you need all the assistance. 

First of all, I totally thought that when you got a mammogram, you squished your breasts up against a plate, like your kids squish their faces up against a window. But apparently not (and honestly, after having it done, I probably would've preferred that). Basically what happens is that, with the help of the technician, you lay your breast up on a tray and then another tray comes down and squishes your breast flat between them. This is obviously not the most comfortable thing in the world, but when one of your breasts is already hurting, it's terrible. So you're standing there, naked from the waist up, with your breast squished between two plates and toward the end of each scan (there are 4, two for each breast), you have to hold your breath for several seconds. They really don't want any movement. 

For the first scan, you just stand with your feet facing forward (towards the machine) and your head turned to the side. For the second scan, your feet stay facing forward, but your whole body twists to the side and you have to hold on to the side of the machine to keep your body twisted. Remember those weird yearbook poses where your legs are turned to the side but your body and face are turned towards the camera? Like that, but worse. 

But that's it! The entire process is maybe 5 minutes.

kathryn getting a mammogram
All thumbs up because it's over!

There are two types of mammograms. Screening mammograms, which all women are supposed to get starting at 40. And diagnostic mammograms, where they are trying to determine if there's a problem. Since I was there for a reason, I also had to get an ultrasound of the affected breast (exactly like all the ones you get during pregnancy, but of your breast). Plus, I got results in real time, while I was still there. So it was nice not to spend the weekend worrying. 

Kristi getting an ultrasound
Waiting on ultrasound results.

My official diagnosis was fibrocystic breast changes. This is likely due to hormonal changes and can become worse during the time before and during your period. Caffeine doesn't cause pain, but it can make it worse. Hence the recommendation to stop it. They also told me that cancer does not usually present as pain (and having fibrocystic breast changes does not increase your risk of breast cancer). So keep looking out for a lump, every month!

If you have any questions or other insights about mammograms, please let me know in the comments!

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