I recently had something suspicious in my right breast and given that I work with young women who get breast cancer at a breast cancer charity, I should have been mighty freaked out. But I wasn’t. Being a young woman, I know that statistically the odds were in my favour. (NOTE: Less then 5% of diagnosed breast cancer cases are in women under 40.) Instead, I wanted to use it as an opportunity to describe what the process of going through a mammogram and ultrasound is like. Here is what I found out…
Time has no business in a hospital
If you have had any testing done in a healthcare setting you know that the waiting game is on and it’s strong. Often diagnostics are not running on schedule due to hospital emergencies, broken machines, a technician not showing up for work or a major earthquake. Be prepared by bringing a book, a charger for your phone, ipad or laptop. Better yet bring a friend! I had Bailey with me who was documenting all of this and it was comforting and made the whole process easier.
A mammogram uses a machine designed to look only at breast tissue. The machine takes x-rays at lower doses than usual x-rays. Because these x-rays don’t go through tissue easily, the machine has 2 plates that compress or flatten the breast to spread the tissue apart. Ouch.
I was escorted into a large cold room by an elderly technician who politely asked me to open my hospital gown. She unabashedly grabbed my breast and stuck it between the above mentioned two plates of glass. This is where things got awkward and very uncomfortable. Did I mention that you have to stand still? You can’t move as your breast is being squished like a panini sandwich.
Just when you think you are finished, they ask you to do the other side. This time, I am better prepared and able to help the technician guide my breast into the plates. I try to crack some jokes about my breasts being so small that the machine won’t register the breast tissue but she doesn’t even look up. Apparently she doesn’t know that comedic relief is EVERYTHING when it comes to anxiety provoking situations. The whole process takes about 15-20 minutes and then we are escorted to the waiting area for the ultrasound. Yes more waiting and this time I am told that one of the technicians is stuck in traffic. For reals.
I have had ultrasounds before. Several times when I was pregnant and on a few other body parts. I had a good idea of what to expect when it came to the jelly, the dark room and the stone cold technician.
These technicians are trained like secret agents when it comes to their facial expressions because they don’t want to give anything away- good or bad news. You may not know this, but it is not the technician’s job to give you your results. In fact, they can actually get in trouble! Both a mammogram and ultrasound are read by a radiologist in a different room who then comes to talk to you about what they see or don’t see.
This doesn’t stop me from asking the technician if “everything is OK?” She was as evasive as a Russian spy… And finally….
Finally the radiologist came in to speak with me about my results. She asked me to show her where I felt the lump which I thought was odd. If there was a lump wouldn’t she see it??? Apparently I have very dense breast tissue which was unbeknownst to me because I have itsy bity boobs. NOTE: Size has nothing to do with breast density. Tissue can be dense in A cups or DD cups. In the end, I was relived to find out that the test came up clean. There were no masses to be concerned about and I was free to go. I felt incredibly relieved – but I also felt something else…
Obviously I was feeling pretty happy about my results, but I was having other thoughts…I got to walk away carefree this time but what about all of the women who don’t? As I changed back into my summer dress, I tool a minute to imagine how those women must feel getting a very different result from me. Overwhelmed, angry, alone, dumbfounded and probably very scared. And then I remember that finding out you have cancer is just the beginning. Going through treatment, dealing with long-term side-effects, changes in your relationships, your career, your body and coping with the fear of possibly hearing those words again one day must be devastating.