June 20, 2010

The Mammogram Primer

Had my mammogram yesterday. When my doc first mentioned last Monday I should get a baseline reading, I kind of freaked out a little bit. No history of breast cancer in my family, but the possibilities of what it could detect are still unsettling, at the very least. I had a pretty chill morning going to NIA dance class (more on that later) and catching up on Weeds and eating leftover Indian food for lunch. By the time I got to the hospital, I decided it wasn't worth getting myself worried sick over a simple scan, so I just let it go with the flow. Since I know many of my readers will eventually have to have a mammogram done at some point (hopefully never at the age of 28), I thought I'd make a little primer out of this. Other general life updates after the jump as well.

Mammogram Tip #1: Take a couple of ibuprofen before your appointment. I'll get to the pain part in a bit, but as a first step: pop a couple of Advil on your drive over to your imaging center. Trust me.

Mammogram Tip #2: Know your family history of breast cancer. They'll ask you both in-person and on your intake form. Other things of which you want to make sure you know the details: any hormonal medication you've taken, including birth control pills, a patch, progesterone supplements, or any kind of fertility drugs (Clomid, Gonal-F, etc.). If you've had a complicated fertility treatment history, it's not a bad idea to just have it all written or printed out with the dates of your treatment and what you took for how long. They also asked me lots of questions since I had no family history of breast cancer and was coming in here at only 28 years old. I had to do the whole "POF/POI - doc wants a baseline" schpiel.

Mammogram Tip #3: Seriously? Don't bother wearing a bra. It's gotta come off anyway, so use the appointment as a chance to swing free for a day (or in my book, no bras on the weekend). Also, wear a comfortable shirt. It'll come off too, but at least when you're done, you'll be wearing something comfortable. I cheated and wore a bathing suit underneath (went to the beach afterward); taking everything off from the waist up was a breeze :) The robe was cute too: I had my choice of pink or white kimono style, opening in the front. Of course I took the pink one!

Mammogram Tip #4: Strike up a conversation with your technician. Mine was kind enough to start it for me- I'm weird with small talk with strangers. She was very curious as to how I was diagnosed with POF and what it meant. We ended up spending almost the whole scan session talking about how adoption works in Massachusetts. And instead of asking me before my scan if there was any chance I was pregnant, she asked if I ever could get pregnant. I wasn't offended either- it was all a very nice distraction to the otherwise very comfortable procedure.

Mammogram Tip #5: Yes, it's going to hurt, but it doesn't last. The mammogram itself is VERY simple. They take four pictures to start, frontal and side views of each breast. Frontal views are the way you're probably imagining mammograms are done: lay your breast on the scan plate, and a top plate lowers down on top of it. As a mammogram is trying to make a 2D image out of a 3D object (your boob), it has to compress quite tight on top. It's definitely painful, but I know it varies based on breast tenderness and size. The scan for each picture only takes about 15 seconds; I found it helped that I inhaled as the plate compresses and exhaled on release. The side view is a bit more painful in that they rotate the bottom plate to about 45° and it compresses from the side. For some reason, on both scans, this one stung a lot more. I compare the pain to anytime you've ever walked into a corner or a door and hit it with your boob. My left breast, for whatever reason, hurt a lot more than my right one. They also have to pull all the breast tissue onto the plate, so that means potentially pulling some armpit fat up there. I know- uncomfortable, but it doesn't last. However, my boobs were definitely a little sore for about a half hour afterward, so I wish I had thought to take an ibuprofen as mentioned in Tip #1 before I left. The soreness was gone within an hour, easily.

Mammogram Tip #6: Don't be alarmed if they call you back for more scans, especially if it's your first mammogram. Since they've never had pictures of your breasts before, they may need more detailed pictures taken. This doesn't instantly mean they've found something. As I mentioned, they're making 2D pictures out of a 3D object, so depending on the compression, some areas of breast tissue may look denser than others just depending on how the breast spread out. My technician explained that they may use weights or other means of compression to help spread out any dense areas that come up. However, for most standard mammograms, such as your annual scan starting at age 40, they'll just be taking those 4 pictures.

Mammogram Tip #7: Do something nice for yourself afterward! My mom makes a "date" out of it with her friend. They both go at the same time and then usually go out to lunch together. It turns something mildly scary into something enjoyable. I ended up going to the beach. Once the scan is done, there's really nothing to do about it, so you might as well spend the time doing something nice for yourself rather than worrying about it.

Mammogram Summary: A few minutes of pain for an important women's health diagnostic, and a great excuse to make a pampered day out of it for yourself afterward.

. . .

Before my mammogram, I went to my NIA dance class. NIA requires a lot of letting go of your pre-conceived notions about aerobics and also your limits of bodily expression. I certainly got a workout (my legs are super sore this morning). But my back doesn't hurt at all. If anything, I have a greater awareness about my body movement and what feels comfortable. You don't have to know dance or martial arts or yoga to appreciate this: there is no "right" way to do NIA. You just do what feels good for your body within a set of given movements. The rest is up to you. I loved it; I wish my next two Saturdays weren't busy so I could go back again. I need to find more NIA classes, because it's a really invigorating, celebratory, expressive workout. Oh, and it won't kill my knees or my back.

Afterward, I hit the beach. Plum Island in Newburyport, MA, is seriously the hidden gem of beaches in the state. Larry is out of town this weekend at a bachelor party on Nantucket, so I thought I'd hit the beach as well. Growing up in NJ, I got spoiled by Atlantic City and Ocean City and Wildwood... NJ beaches are pretty nice and it's amazing how much warmer the water is just 5 hours south of here. Plum Island is the closest thing to a Jersey Shore experience I've had in the 3 years since moving up here. The only catch? The water is FREEZING- like, "I meant to get a tan but I got hypothermia instead" cold.

I fully intended on reading and writing while I sat on the beach: oh no. I passed the eff out. Like, I'm pretty sure I was snoring at one point PTFO'd. It was wonderful. I went for a dip in the ocean to cool off a couple of times, and then realized I was starving. I hit up downtown Newburyport and the River Merrimac Bar & Grille for dinner. Newburyport is so cute and quaint! Lots of Georgian brick-edifice buildings with neat little shops. Parking is a bit of a hassle, but walking around in the nice warm June evening air was just lovely. Dinner was exquisite: a glass of riesling (14 Hands- best riesling I've had), a beet and arugula salad with toasted sunflower seeds and applewood smoked bacon pieces with a red wine vinaigrette and for my entree: wild mushroom risotto, with oyster, portobello, and shittake mushrooms lightly sautéed with garlic, shallot and Madeira wine, served over braised greens & creamy risotto, finished with goat cheese & truffle oil. It was pretty friggin' fantastic. Topped the night off with fresh strawberry ice cream from Gram's Ice Cream and then drove home, sunkissed, tired, and super-relaxed.

With the craziness of the past few weeks, I haven't felt this relaxed in ages. Today: Strawberry Festival, one more home tour of our favorite spot, and a BBQ with friends afterward. It's been a great weekend.

Top photo by: Manuel Cacciatori via Flickr. Bottom photo by: Keiko Zoll ©2010.


Amber said...

I sure enjoyed (and appreciate!) your mammogram primer! I haven't had my first one yet, which is sort of odd considering I'm 33 and have family history. I think the apprehension keeps me from pressuring my doc to go ahead and order one. Now I feel better about it. :) I look forward to following you!

ICLW #154

KT said...

I actually have never had anyone share their experience...thanks for sharing! Hopefully everything comes back "clean". We do not have a strong history of breast cancer in my family, so I am hoping to be as lucky as to follow in those steps (although I haven't been blessed with good skin...get your moles looked at...easy to take care of if they come off early).

Anonymous said...

Why did you need a mammogram? I guess for the same reason as the bone scan. My doc says I don't need a bone scan. And no one has mentioned a mammogram. Although I'm getting to that age anyway.