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Mammogram Time!

So, since I’ve been doing this more or less out on the internet, might as well finish the process off.

Today I had my mammogram! (It would have been last week, but back, out, ouch.)

It was…hmm. It wasn’t awful, actually, nor scary, nor anything. It did use up my entire store of Cheerful Coping, which means that I am spending the rest of the day resigned to accomplishing nothing much. (This may be a personal thing.)

And my boobs aren’t thrilled with me right now, I won’t lie. Although it’s less pain and more that kind of weird hyper-sensitive skin ache you get when you have the flu. I am very aware that they are there. Things Have Been Done To Them. They Are Not Amused.

But it’s not like when I got the IUD, when I went into fetal position for a day. Still, mileage may vary.

So I went in, and the tech was very nice. I had moved all my fears of “It’s cancer!” to “The tech will be mean and squash my boobs and won’t stop when I yell “ARRRGGH!” This turned out to be unfounded. Everyone was very nice. Gave them my information, name got called, went in. (The waiting room was somewhat emotionally uncomfortable, I grant you–if there’s an antechamber where everyone is in their own private little hell, the waiting room of a radiologist/oncologist is high on the list. Still, my time was short and I had Angry Birds.)

Also, I got really lucky. It was hot back there. We’re having cold weather and the heaters have kicked in, but the techs were sweating and muttering about how the thermostat was busted. Score one for the person not wearing a shirt!

Stripped to the waist, got the Super Fashionable Green Drape, took my deodorant off with a wet-wipe (that was unexpected) and then faced…the Magic Waffle-Iron.

I mean, it’s a bigass high-tech imaging device that looks like a cross between a dentist’s X-Ray machine and the Orgasmatron from Sleeper* but it’s basically a Magic Waffle-Iron. The tech took my information (again) and checked it against the wrist band they’d given me.

“Do you get a lot of people sneaking in to get mammograms?” I asked.

She stared at me.

“Well, you’ve verified my identity three times now, so I’m wondering if this is a problem…I mean, if I was going to sneak in and get a procedure done, it would NOT be this one–”

“No one is sneaking in,” she said, and gave me that look people give me when they can’t decide if I’m a moron, trying to be funny, or have some kind of disorder.

Once we established this was my first mammogram, however, it was all good. She promised that if the building caught fire, she would not leave without me and that we would not be dragging the Magic Waffle-Iron through the building behind us. She promised to stop if it was too painful.

I found the Boob-Mouse–I’ve gotten good at finding it–and she taped a little tiny metal bearing to it as a marker. So, boob out, on shelf,  leaning in at weird angle. She arranged everything where it should go, then Magic Waffle-Iron squashes everything like liquid on a microscope slide.

It wasn’t fun.  But it was on the discomfort side and didn’t really shiver over to actual pain. And it was over fast–Waffle-Iron would squash, I’d say “Okay, that’s far enough,” she’d say “Stopping there,” she’d step behind this little glass partition to check the monitor, and then I’d have to lift my chin because it was in the way of the Waffle-Iron (I kept doing that) and then there would be about a three count, and the Waffle-Iron would release.

The top sheet of the Waffle is transparent, so you get to see yourself rolled out like a particularly egregious nippled biscuit.

The tech fiddles around the partition, and then the Waffle-Iron swings sideways (at least this one did) and you repeat the process and get an angled shot.

“Ooh! Can I look?” I said.

“Uh…sure!” (I don’t know, she seemed a little surprised. Do people not WANT to look inside their boobs?)

So I went behind the little partition, and there was a picture of my boob, looking like a cloud formation. The tissue close to the chest was dark, then it became a lot of white cloudy stuff. She pointed out a large round shape in the white-on-white. “That’s the big one,” she said.

“But there’s one there, and there, and there–” I stopped. Cysts as far as the eye could see.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “You have a bunch in there.”

I paused. I had never felt anything but the Boob-mouse. Suddenly I felt weirdly infested. “What’s that dark spot, right there? That looks scary.”

She gave me a pitying look. “Oh, honey. That’s normal breast tissue.”


So, that’s what cystic breasts look like. Huh.

They did the other one, since it would be really awkward to check the right breast and have the left quietly harboring cancer. It, too, was full of cloudy white.

Then a second run at Boob-mouse, with a more precise (i.e. smaller) top layer on the Waffle-Iron. That actually got pretty unpleasant, as Boob-mouse had by now figured out that Something Was Going On and it was being compressed to half its normal size and was getting pissy about it. But the tech warned me that it would be more uncomfortable, and again, never lasted more than a long three count.

I think this may be one of the very few procedures that are probably easier for someone with larger breasts. I mean, I didn’t enjoy it, but there was a lot of tissue to work with and they weren’t tugging or anything. (I expect there’s an upper limit to this, though–you can only squash things so far.)

Not fun, but I’d totally go for that rather than having my teeth cleaned. And I like my dentist. (Not that this is a choice anyone ever offers.)

(That said, if you have body issues, and/or you really don’t like a stranger hauling things into position, this may be pretty emotionally wracking. I am too old and jaded to get upset and they were very professional, but let’s face it, somebody is gonna be handling your breasts, no two ways about it. This would undoubtedly be very upsetting if one were a teenager, or had a rude or heavyhanded tech. Plan accordingly. People will be touching you.)

Then it was off to the ultrasound. This was pretty straightforward and much like the one other ultrasound I’ve had–apply slime, stick weird wand that looks vaguely like an electric shaver into slime, wiggle.

“Now, I can’t tell you anything,” she said up front. “It has to go to the radiologist first, and then either I’ll be able to tell you what it is or he’ll come talk to you, but I’m not allowed to make any diagnoses or say anything about what I’m seeing.” (This struck me as fair, though probably deeply nerve-wracking–I was glad she admitted it up front.)

“Fair enough,” I said. “But if it’s boob-clams, you have to tell me.”

There was a noticeable pause while she stifled something—I choose to believe it was laughter—and then she said “I will tell you if it’s a boob-clam.”

(It wasn’t a boob-clam.)

Now, I have never looked at any proud parent’s ultrasound and seen jack shit in it. Tell me it’s a baby, I’ll smile and nod because obviously it’s important to you, but for all I know, it’s an ultrasound of a Labrador’s intestines. A male Labrador. Whatever magic-eye puzzle trick there is to seeing a baby, I don’t got it. It’s a staticky smear.

Cysts, though! Wow! Those suckers are black! You can see the Boob-mouse from space! (Plus a small satellite in the same vicinity.) It’s like that one fractal with the big black blob and the little small black blob sticking off it, on a sea of mottled pixels. That is some contrast!

Anyway, she looked at it, said “Okay! Now I go talk to the radiologist…I’ll be right back…” and I got through two levels of Angry Birds (while lying on my back with a towel over my chest) before she returned. “Good news!” she said. “They’re all cysts. Let me show you the big one…” She pulled up the image, walked through What Makes Us Sure That’s A Cyst (black = fluid filled, a discernable and roughly symmetrical edge, and something I didn’t quite get about clear contrast from behind, but she pointed out a brightly lit patch beneath the Boob-mouse and apparently that satisfied the criteria.)

Then—and I absolutely want to give her credit for this!—she said “You did absolutely the right thing coming in, just because it’s a cyst doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been something worse, we get women in all the time with large lumps that they’ve just ignored and which are bad, so if another one comes up, definitely tell your doctor.”

My gut feeling is that there’s probably a lot of women who (like me!) are freaked out, afraid it’s cancer, and then when they find out it’s nothing, they get embarrassed. (God knows why—something about how we’re socialized, I guess—but when terror goes sideways, it’s all too likely to turn into shame.) I think being told by the medical professional that you did exactly what you were supposed to do and to do it again is really helpful. So–err–dunno if any medical techs in this field read my blog, but if you do, do that! That’s good! That helps! That means I’m likely to treat the next lump as “Thing to get checked out, just in case,” which is healthier than “Great, another one,”** or “OH GOD THIS TIME IT’S THE CANCER.”

So that was my experience with a mammogram. Feel free to post yours, positive or negative, below.

And finally—a BIG thank you to everybody who posted about what to expect from one, on earlier blog posts! So many routine medical procedures are shrouded in mystery, and hell, we’re already afraid we’re going to die, one more anxiety on top isn’t helping anybody. I’m grateful to everybody who shared their stories—it really helped!


*I have just dated myself terribly.

**Not that it might not come to that, realistically.

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

FWIW, I'd guess that part of the identification is making sure that they get the records into the right file. It would be horrible to have your doctor give you the "this looks like cancer" talk only to find out the pictures are from some other woman. And it would be even more horrible for her.

That's just what I was thinking. I know that sort of thing happens now and again, I've read some scary stories. Checklists and obsessively checking everything is a really good sign amongst medical practitioners. Surgical outcomes go up massively when they use endlessly detailed checklists, for example.

"...I have just dated myself terribly...."

Next time you pick the restaurant.

(Honestly, this stuff just comes out on its own, like sweat.)

This story gives me another reason not to want breasts*. I'm relieved to hear it's not worse.

(*I mean, of my own. Attached to me. Shutting up now.)

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Mine was more or less exactly as you described, only tiny breasts = skin all around them feeling as if someone's trying to pull your boob off. Still better than teeth-cleaning though.

*nods* Within limits, this is definitely one of those things where larger breasts have the advantage. Especially if your breast tissue tends toward softer and pillowy rather than very dense and heavy. There IS a limit to how much they can squish very very large or dense breasts, but you're not likely to feel like someone's just decided No Breasts For You! and tried to rip them right off.

Kudos to her for the reassurance that You Did Not Waste Our Time. That's the biggest thing that gets shaded over into the guilt territory. "Oh, it was nothing, I shouldn't have bothered them, I took the time someone else needed, and..." yeah, no. Finding out that it's nothing to worry about is a very good and necessary thing.

So glad it's nothing to worry about. *cheers*

You did great! And I too, am glad you went in. No, they're not fun, and the pinch of the press gets that 'I have to put up with it' painful but in the long run, better to go than not.

So good for you--you've helped yourself and a lot of your readers too.

I had to be bullied into calling 911 for a very painful gall bladder attack once. It was the first time I'd ever had to call 911, and I just Wasn't Going to Do That, even if there was a chance it could have been a heart attack. So, yeah, there is a big fear of wasting everyone's time over something trivial, even though you're the only person thinking it's trivial.

I never thought I'd be laughing at someone's description of a mammogram. Thank you. I wish I could have read this before my first one.

Glad to hear the good news.

I had one technician tell me that much older women with little to no breast tissue left have the hardest time getting good images, because the technician's fingers are wider than the breast, so there is nothing to hold the breast in place.

I've probably had about a dozen mammograms now, one yearly, and each has been different. I've had several times where the tissue folds on itself and they have to do another image because it looks like something is there. Thankfully, nothing ever has been, but heart-stopping moments until the technician comes back in.

"I think this may be one of the very few procedures that are probably easier for someone with larger breasts."

Oh hell yeah. My mom, bless her, is built like an 11-year-old. Me, I get my boobs from the other side of the family, as it were. At least I've got some padding.

I understand men sometimes get breast cancer. I wonder what the mammogram experience is like for a man?

Bloody awful from what I've heard. [had a friend who had it]. The techs are freaked out, and female almost always...the Magic waffle-iron isn't built to take male boobs and generally requires a fair bit of McGyvering to get it to work, and then the radiologist isn't too sure what male boobs are supposed to look like. At least, that's how he described it roughly.

Thanks for posting this. I've never had one done before, but I think in a few years I'll need to start doing them and it's good to know what to expect in advance. I hear you on the IUD thing, though. They really don't exaggerate when they say it's painful.

Like I posted below, there are certainly more enjoyable ways to spend an hour on your day off, but I've never found it any more or less "bad" than any other routine medical test. You go in, you get it over with, and then you go get ice cream~!

I have to schedule one and I've been putting it off...this was funny enough that I'm almost looking forward to getting it over with. (So glad you tested negative on the cancer and the boob-clams.)

Thats weird, because I remember a doctor telling me that there was no point in getting cystic breasts examined. Something about them being full of lumps anyway? I don't remember clearly. It was a long time ago. But the "you've wasted my time, don't come back" vibe was strong with him.

Self-exams can hit the point of diminishing returns if there are too many lumps, but no, you definitely still get exams! I would definitely get a second opinion!

It did use up my entire store of Cheerful Coping, which means that I am spending the rest of the day resigned to accomplishing nothing much. (This may be a personal thing.)

No, no, I think that's pretty normal. My I ended up hanging out with my ex-with-benefits on Monday; he received some news that stressed him out a lot, and trying to help him work through it left me PRETTY USELESS afterwards. (Everything is okay, it's just that he's got to deal with something that's a pain in the butt.)

Oof, yeah, I think that particular stress has been hitting a few folks we know lately.

The Cheerful Coping! I'm so glad you mentioned this (along with everything else - mammogram in a few weeks, not my first one, but it's been awhile...after reading this I'm almost looking forward to it, lol) - I've been catching up on long-neglected various medical check ups and find that yeah, after the medical poking of the day not much else accomplished and have been feeling frustrated by this. Not just me! Nice to know :)

Boob clams are an insidious breed.