Well, I had put it off for far too long. So long that I had developed quite an anxiety at the prospect of having my bosoms squished between two perspex plates. I shouldn’t have avoided it as long as I did because my mum had had a radical mastectomy at aged 46 years (I was 17 years old at the time). I am now 42 years old. I think that having seen my mum post breast removal and the emotional scars of having her breast off, did affect me quite a bit. I would feel so nauseous whilst palpating my own breasts to check for lumps that I would tend to put it off. But then when I was seeing my Doctor about something else, I kind of felt embarrassed to ask her to check my breasts for me in case she thought I was there to get my jollies or was just plain lazy.
At aged 36 yrs, I developed multiple breast cysts that would, ache and burn, especially at that time of the month. So because of all the negative reactions I had observed in women when the word ‘mammogram’ was mentioned, I assumed that they must be really painful. Having already painful breasts from the cysts I did not relish the thought of my breasts being compressed. So mammography testing was pushed to the back burner and I told myself that I would just get my Doctor to refer me for bilateral breast ultrasounds to get them screened. This worked for a time. My cysts were seen and diagnosed on ultrasound and everyone was quite happy to leave them where they were. They settled down for a while over the four years of being either pregnant or breastfeeding. However, now one year after my youngest son stopped breastfeeding, the cysts have made themselves known again. Just subtley initially, with a niggling burn above and beyond the usual heat of pre menstrual, swollen breasts. Enough for me to start palpating them and feeling concerned about what was going on in there.
So I went to see a new female Doctor. I told her that I wanted a referral for breast ultrasounds as mammograms would be too painful because I had cysts. She told me that current studies/recommendations from a course she had just attended say that a woman whose mother had, had breast cancer really should have the three pronged approach to breast screening : 1. Palpation (self examination or by a Doctor) 2. Mammogram and 3. Ultrasound.
I accepted the referral sheets for the mammogram and breast ultrasound, however the day before the appointment I chickened out and canceled the mammogram. I was scared. Scared of pain. I also had an aversion to the word mammogram as it kind of has a big association in our family with the word ‘mastectomy’. Anyway, I attended the ultrasound and the lady asked me why I had canceled the mammogram as I was doing things backwards. You are supposed to have the mammogram first and then if anything like cysts or lumps were seen, you should then have the ultrasound to further define them diagnostically. Well, my breasts went around the mulberry bush…Not literally, as if they really had they would be stained purple and they’re not.
No. The results came back saying I had a ‘complicated’ cyst. This was new. They wanted to do a fine needle aspiration under ultrasound and I was informed that I definitely also had to have a mammogram. I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had a duty of care to myself and a responsibility towards my children, husband and mum. So today I went for my first ever mammogram and guess what? It was FINE. It was not painful. I wouldn’t even describe it as uncomfortable or unpleasant. It certainly wasn’t a pleasant experience but it did not hurt. I would merely say that it felt awkward. As a lot of you know, your breasts have to be handled and moulded onto the clear perspex plate and the mammographer asks you to bend your knee and lean in at an awkward angle and lift your arm up and there is just the anticipation of not knowing when the plate is going to stop. Just like when a blood pressure cuff gets filled up and it keeps filling up and you are not sure when its going to stop. In fact, I would say that in my experience, having your blood pressure taken is much more uncomfortable.
So, the long and the short of it is this… I am totally relieved to have found out that Mammograms are not at all painful. Sometimes my papsmears are much more uncomfortable than what I experienced today. The relief I feel from just having gone and got it done is enormous. I totally know that I will not fear, sweat and avoid the yearly Mammograms now. I will just be glad that I won’t have to be wondering whether or not my breasts are really okay. So if you have been worrying about getting a Mammogram done or have been putting it off, just go and do it… It is totally okay. My breasts today were swollen and extremely premenstrual, plus had multiple cysts in them and despite the compression it did not hurt at all.
When it’s all said and done, I feel quite proud that after breastfeeding my three kids, I really did have something quite substantial to bring to the Mammogram table for testing! My breasts have served me well.