My first Mammogram

How did this come to be?

A routine (and first) visit to the hospital earlier this week led to the Dr asking lots of questions about my general health. One of these questions, being a lady of over 40 years old, was when was my last mammogram. I was a bit taken aback. I’ve never had a mammogram, they were for people at risk of breast cancer, right? Wrong! It’s a regular screening for ladies between the ages of 40-50 and supposed to be every year over the age of 50. The Dr so advised me after she stopped typing and looked at me somewhat surprised. How had I managed to avoid having one so far? I’ve never been asked to have one and as I didn’t think I needed one, I didn’t ask either. The nurse quickly made me an appointment for a few days later.

The build up

Somewhat nonplussed I turned up for my appointment dead on time. It was in the cancer care unit of the hospital. I handed over my appointment card and asked to be seated until I was called. After 30 minutes I was called to the desk and registered. 30 minutes wait just for registration. My hope of getting in and out fast faded away rapidly. (I had an electrician coming to look at the kitchen later and it had taken quite some time to arrange so the thought of rearranging that was unappealing.) I was directed to go down corridor E and hand my appointment details to the reception desk there and wait in the separate waiting room there. This I dutifully did and was somewhat dismayed to count that there were no less than 14 ladies and 1 gentleman in front of me. I sat down and watched the storm rolling in, literally.

The Mammogram

After waiting some time the radiographer called my name and led me into what looked like an X-ray room with a machine in it. After checking my details she asked if I had ever had a mammogram before. As I hadn’t she then explained the procedure. After undressing my top half she positioned me, my arms and my breast (one at a time process) on the machine. Now, the position you have to stand in is quite something. One arm above your head, dropped shoulder whilst the other hand is lifted slightly and gripping the machine (handy during the process). I looked like a fat ballerina in a dance pose with my breasts out.

The radiographer then pulls (yes, pulls) your breast to flatten it on the machine. The machine has clear plastic plates and screens. She then said, “ok pressure being applied now” and proceeded to squash my breast in a vice like grip. It literally took my breath away. She then dashed behind the screen to take the image and said “pressure now” and the machine squashed my breast even harder. I couldn’t breathe it was so painful. She then said “don’t breathe” whilst she took the image. “Don’t breathe”?! Don’t breathe! I couldn’t breathe if I wanted too! My breast was being compressed into the shape of floppy dog ears. Don’t breath my arse!

The relief when the machine automatically released the pressure after the scan was immense. Except that I had to repeat that process another three times. By the end of it I was convinced that only a man could design a machine that inflicted so much pain, as any woman would have designed something a lot less painful for this procedure (either that or they were into sado masochism).

After dressing I went back to the waiting area to await the results…trying not to be too obvious about nursing my poor sore breasts. After some time, the radiographer re appeared and led me back into the scan room. They had found a small distortion and wanted to take another image but more compressed. ‘More compressed’! More?! How much more could they flatten my enormous breasts?! I was apprehensive – once bitten, twice shy. The above process was repeated, except this time, when she said more compression, she really meant it. I literally squealed in pain and it made my eyes water. It was like someone nipping my entire breast really hard. It was excruciatingly painful for the few seconds it lasted. I really did think I would have a breast like a floppy dog ear after that. I returned to the waiting room (after dressing) nursing my breast. It was so sore.

The results

Eventually, and after some confusion, the radiologist said that all was ok and she would send the report to my doctor for my follow up appointment. As I don’t have a doctor here in Singapore (or a follow up appointment for that matter) I asked who that would be. It would be sent to the referring Dr at the hospital who would call me if she had any concerns. Good to go.

Final thoughts

Us ladies know that there are many things we have to endure as healthy women and many invasive procedures to succumb to to remain healthy. It’s just part of life. This is one of those things. Better to go through this pain than have breast cancer undetected.

I am glad I didn’t research or read up about it beforehand as it might well have put me off going (and I hope this doesn’t for any women out there who haven’t had one yet – just do it). When my sister said that it was putting your breasts in a vice and you can’t move, I had imagined something small like a carpenters vice and not this huge clear plastic machine with a ridiculous ballet pose. As I type this my breasts are still sore. They’ve not turned into floppy dog ears – yet.