mammogram stress


I find this kind of embarrassing to write about but need to share in case it’s happened to anyone else out there. I recently “passed out” during a mammogram! Yes, I fully fainted. The technician ran over to catch me as I slumped forward on the machine. Her arms were full (from holding me up) so she couldn’t get to her panic button and had to scream “Help! Help!” towards the hall. Her shouts actually woke me up. A swat team of other technicians burst into the room, I was given juice and swathed in cold compresses and generally fussed over, which made me want to shrink up and disappear even more. Ugh.

About 6 years ago, as I was finishing breast feeding my daughter, I found a lump in my left breast. It turned out to be a cyst. Well, actually a cluster of small cysts kind of in the shape of a bunch of grapes. Because of its slightly “atypical” shape and my family history (my mom died of breast cancer at age 53 and my grandmother also had breast cancer) it was very thoroughly investigated…mammogram, ultrasound, MRI and finally a core biopsy to confirm that it was in fact just a cyst and not malignant. Since then, I get an annual screening mammogram and MRI to keep track of any changes.

For the past few years, these annual tests have gone quite well. I have been pleasantly surprised that having a mammogram is not that bad. I do still get stressed before each test. After all, through my work at Rethink Breast Cancer I have a daily reminder that young women get breast cancer too! But, I have a talent for stuffing down my own personal fears as I immerse myself in a world of breast cancer, breast cancer, breast cancer!

This past summer, my aunt was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. I was so shocked. My mom and grandmother were diagnosed in the 1980s and in the almost 25 years since then, both of my mom’s sisters have been fine. Breast cancer is so common that I was convinced that my mom and grandmother were probably random cases, which gave me great comfort regarding my own risk. Suddenly, my aunt was facing treatment and getting genetic testing.

As soon as my aunt was diagnosed I started to feel “weird” on my left side. My left breast seemed extremely tender and painful under my armpit and more swollen during my cycle. I became hyper-aware of “the lump” and I just had an overwhelming feeling that something was wrong. So, I got an appointment for a mammogram to have it checked out.

I was definitely scared that morning as I headed into the little mammography screening room. But, typical me, I tried to cover up any fear and chit-chatted away with the technician, cool as a cucumber as she arranged me up on the machine. She did my right breast first and OMG did it hurt!! I’d never experienced pain from a mammogram before and was shocked at the excruciating pain. As she prepared to “squeeze” the left breast (the one we’ve been “tracking” for years; the one I’d become suddenly convinced was harbouring a cancerous tumour), I felt myself starting to sweat even more. Why did I wear a skirt and high heel sandals instead of sneakers and lulus? She asked me to hold my breath as she took the image. I remember a feeling of dread as I thought “this is it” and then suddenly thinking “I feel like I’m going to faint.” Apparently I said this out loud which (fortunately) gave the technician enough time to get to me and catch me as I passed out.

We decided it was a combination of extreme anxiety and extreme pain that caused me to faint. The technician that came in to take over post my mamm-o-meltdown was a total mother hen. She’s kind of the head honcho of the screening unit. She arranged for me to sit in a chair for the two side pictures that still needed to be taken. When she squeezed, it was just a squeeze and not an “OMG this is worse than child birth” situation. She said there is absolutely no reason for a mammogram to hurt.

So, the takeaways I want to leave you with:

1) If you are nervous, let the technician know (not a time to fake it ‘til you make it)

2) If the mammogram is super painful, the technician is doing something wrong. It should feel like a firm squeeze but should not hurt.

While I was rattled from my experience, I was back at work the next day. Although I had been preparing myself for bad news, I was still caught off guard when I got the dreaded “call back” from the hospital. They saw something on the mammogram that they didn’t like and wanted me to have another mammogram and ultrasound. Eeeek!

When I arrived for this follow-up screening, I pounced on the mother-hen technician when I checked in and insisted that I needed her to do my imaging. She took excellent care of me and the mammogram didn’t hurt a bit. Best of all, I was told that upon further investigation, everything looked good.

MAJOR WHEW!! – MJ DeCoteau

Click here to learn more about mammograms.

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