I’m a firm believer in the old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s why I started using anti-aging cream when I was 19. It’s why I floss daily. Well, it’s why I floss more often than not. It’s also why I spend so many weekday mornings at annual checkups during the beginning of every year that invariably, a coworker will pull me aside and ask if I’m secretly interviewing for a new job.
So I shouldn’t have hesitated when my OB said it was time for my first mammogram, but I did. Dr. R., a short, slender woman with curly brown hair and the coolest collection of eyeglasses I’ve ever seen, answered one of my questions before I could ask it.
“You’re not 40 yet, but it would be good to get a baseline,” she said while peeping over rectangular purple frames. I wanted to inquire about where she buys her glasses, but that didn’t seem like the right time. Before I left, a nurse handed me a form to take to the imaging center of my choice. I folded it over twice and stuck it into my bag. Then I forgot all about it.
A rambling toddler and a pledge to stop procrastinating made me pick up the phone and make an appointment, but I wasn’t looking forward to it. The 1988 made-for-TV biopic “The Ann Jillian Story” and snatches of conversations I’ve heard over the years were the foundation of my pitiful knowledge of mammograms:
They are scary, and they hurt.
I had no reason to be afraid. The mammogram was a routine diagnostic in my case. There are many women, Ann Jillian included, who have had mammograms to investigate lumps or check for the return of cancer. That’s scary.
As far as pain goes, how bad could it be? I had all four of my impacted wisdom teeth pulled at once, and the anesthesia wore off halfway through the procedure. I’ve had two kids for goodness sake. A mammogram couldn’t be as bad as all that.
Turns out, it wasn’t. I arrived at the imaging center 15 minutes before my scheduled appointment. I filled out a three-page questionnaire and waited until my named was called. When it was my turn, the technician took me to a small dressing room and handed me a cape that opened in the front. I changed and met her in front of the mammography machine. It was smaller than I expected.
The most uncomfortable part of the whole thing was the awkward dance the tech and I had to do to position my breasts on the machine. At one point, my cheek pressed against the front while my arm hugged the side. I don’t enjoy snuggling with x-ray equipment, but it was a far cry from painful.
I waited another five minutes or so for the tech to check the pictures to make sure they imaged clearly. After that, I was on my way. The whole experience took less than 45 minutes.
“I’ll see you next year,” the technician grinned as she escorted me to the door.
In the end, I’m glad I went. I do want to talk more with my doctor about the need for an annual mammography, but for now I’m thankful I didn’t let fear get in the way.