7 Women on what you need to know before your first mammogram

I recently had my yearly lady-town exam. My gynecologist gave me a high five for my weight loss, a renewed prescription for my birth control pills, and said, “Congratulations! You need to see the schedule office on the way out.” It wasn’t to schedule my next yearly, it was something new.

I have now reached the glorious age (soon-to-be 40) where it is time to schedule my very first mammogram.

I didn’t think being handed a scheduling note could create such feelings of anxiety. But it did. Lots of it. I walked down the hallway to see the scheduling people and gave them the note from my doctor.

“Your first mammogram! So exciting! Did you want to schedule this on your birthday?”

Excuse me, what?

No. Seriously. WHAT?

I asked why I would want to schedule such a thing on my birthday and she told me lots of women do it. She said they took the day off, did something for their health by getting the exam, and then they took themselves out to a pedicure or something. So … did I want to do that?

No. No I didn’t. The woman looked up my information and then pouted, “Aww! Holiday birthday! We couldn’t have scheduled you anyway. So let’s get you in right after the new year!”

Her enthusiasm was growing on me. Why was I being so cranky? It’s just an exam. It’s just a photograph. Of my breasts. That they take to make sure they are healthy. And of course they would be healthy.

But what if …

I decided to reach out to friends to see if they had any advice to help me through my first mammogram anxiety. Reaching out to people was the best thing I could have done. Instantly I felt better. It’s the unknown that is terrifying, but hearing from people I rely on about what to expect has decreased my anxiety.

Here’s advice from seven friends on getting a mammogram …

Don’t let fear stop you from getting one.

Lisa Frame is a friend who has had 30 mammograms since the age of 19. She urges everyone to get a baseline mammogram. She is so very thankful for diagnostic tools like mammograms and if you don’t believe her, she will pull down her shirt and show you the scar across the top of her breast.

The boob-squishing machine is real and it hurts …

“Small boobs? You will feel like they are pulling tissue from underneath your arm to shove it under that machine. Big boobs? Get ready to have pancakes as your breasts are smashed to get a clear picture. The scariest thing about getting a mammogram is the fear of the diagnosis, not necessarily the fear of the procedure.” — Jennifer Wesbrock Evers

… but it might not hurt as bad as you’re expecting.

My friend Ashley Garret found that the actual mammogram didn’t hurt like she expected it to. She says it was uncomfortable, but it’s just a squeeze and only lasts a few seconds.

It’s all business to the techs.

“You basically hand them over your boobs. They position them, move them to fit between two pieces of glass, and move you to make sure your boob is where it should be. The tech taking X-rays of your boobs sees boobs all day long. Your boobs are nothing special to him/her, which means you also do not have to feel badly if you have something you don’t like about your boobs.” — Julia Roberts

Don’t wear deodorant.

“Your armpit will be all up into edges of a machine, just like everyone else’s arm pit,” says Julia. So no need to add any gunky deodorant residue.

Tweeze your nipple hair beforehand.

“Standing topless with a paper shirt wide open in a small room in front of a stranger with cold hands is always going to be an odd experience. If you have any moles around your breasts, they are going to put stickers over them so they know they are moles as opposed to spots. They do that with your nipples too, which is strange. (The stickers can hurt pulling off sometimes if you have the occasional nipple hair you forgot to tweeze.)” — Jennifer Wesbrock Evers

Bring your sense of humor.

Having a friend who is, hands down, one of the funniest people on the planet, is helpful when you are full of anxiety about stuff like mammograms. I told Wendi Aarons I needed to fill my brain up with humor to stomp out the “what if they SEE something” voice. She has suggested a list of things NOT to say. Her number one thing not to blurt out is, “Is the exam ‘pants optional’?”

Take an over-the-counter pain reliever in advance.

“And do something nice for yourself (like a pedicure or massage) directly afterward.” — Anne Parris

Take deep breaths.

Julia Roberts also reminded me take deep breaths and not to worry if I end up needing to sit in the hallway while a radiologist looks at the film. She says it is usually for them to make sure they have all they need.

Think of it as a “tribute to your boobies.”

My friend Lori Garcia has fibrocystic breast disease. She says this means her breasts are “super lumpy and rock hard” around her period. Because of this she has had four mammograms, along with a couple of ultrasounds. She had very encouraging advice about going for a mammogram.

“Think of your mammogram as a tribute to your boobies. You’re doing something wonderful for yourself and it’s actually cause for celebration! Think about how lucky we are to have this technology available to us!” Her stepmother was diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer all because of a mammogram.

Go zen on the day of.

“Mantras really help me when I’m stressed. You might want to consider finding one that speaks to you and repeat it over and over and over. It helps me. Mine is usually like, ‘My body is strong. My body is strong. My body is strong.’” — Lori Garcia

If it’s your first mammogram, you have a higher chance of getting a callback to retake images.

Ashley Garret works in a hospital and she asked some employees from the Breast Health Center if they had any advice for me and other women going for their first mammogram. She said they wished more first-timers knew “the chance of your getting a callback to retake images or a referral for a followup ultrasound are higher if this is your first mammo, simply because you have no baseline study yet so they’ll be extra careful.”

If you are anxious about getting your first mammogram I GET IT. I felt foolish for admitting it, but since talking to my friends I realize we all worry about the unknown. What a mammogram does is help us smash through the not knowing. It’s diagnostic and informative. It can save our lives.

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