On a bright and clear afternoon, I walked out of the doctor’s office with two things on my person that I had not ever anticipated having, or at least not the first thing—a problem in my right breast, and an order for a mammogram.
It had all started a few weeks earlier. I had been coughing my lungs out as I recovered from an illness and was feeling along my armpit area for tender glands when I happened across something odd on the outer quadrant of my breast. It is probably a swollen gland, I told myself. But the lump did not go away in the coming weeks. That lump just sat there, waiting for me to call the doctor, and so I did. I waited two more weeks for my appointment, and then that lump—that jerk—decided to disappear 24 hours before I could see the doctor.
I kept my appointment. After making more than one awkward small-talk attempt with my doctor while she spent what seemed like a very long time pressing on my breasts, I lay there thinking that I finally knew what it felt like to be a Barbie discarded mid-way through a wardrobe change. “It was probably a cyst,” the doctor announced, and then followed it with that dreaded, “but…”
It was decided that because there was general “bumpiness” in that area of the breast tissue, it would be best to do a mammogram to err on the side of caution.
A Lump in the Throat to go with a Lump in the Breast
I can’t ever recall hearing someone mention a mammogram like they do an eye exam or a teeth cleaning. They don’t seem to fall into the category of no-big-deal-its-just-routine medical procedures, even when they are just routine. There is this nasty rumor circulating, passed down from one generation to the next like some sort of breast inspired folk tale, that mammograms are painful.
The night prior to the scan I decided to ask Google for its opinion of mammograms. I anticipated the forums full of scary stories and dramatic people—I knew to take them with a grain of salt—but I wasn’t expecting the medical articles to say things like “it may be uncomfortable.” I have this tendency to assume that whenever a medical professional says something is “uncomfortable” they must be sugar-coating it, and therefore it must be really horrible.
And then there was that word “compress.” These breast torturers were apparently planning to squish my boobs. But was it going to be like when you press your face up to a window and you look all freakish but it doesn’t hurt, or did they really mean compress?
Into the Breast Torture Chamber
They aren’t breast torturers, I reassured myself as I stood in the hallway awaiting the volunteer to whisk me back to the torture chamber. We made a pit stop at the locker room first, so that I could put on the uniform appropriate for being “compressed”—the shirt version of a hospital gown.
Then I sat down in a small waiting room with five other women all wearing the ill-fitting shirt. I kept thinking it was going to come undone and expose my now lump-free right breast in all its “bumpy” glory just prior to it being flattened into a pancake. Apparently, everyone else had the same thought process, because all eyes were glued to a magazine or phone in careful avoidance.
It was very odd. It was something like waiting to be called back at a hair salon, only everyone had put on the barber’s cloth a bit early and we all seemed to think we would be walking out of there with a mohawk.
And Then They Called my Name
I was ushered into a little room with a pleasant lady that was also pleasantly to the point. There was a bit of “where is the problem area,” and “hold onto this bar with this arm,” and “hold your breath for just a short while.” And…absolutely no pain.
Seriously. It doesn’t hurt. I didn’t look down to see how pancake-like my breasts were in that temporary state, but they didn’t feel like pancakes. It felt similar to having my blood pressure taken—a slight squeeze sensation that was really no bother. It seemed to all be done in about ten minutes, and there weren’t even any weird stickers put on my nipples like Google said there would be.
My bumpy boob is just normal fibroglandular tissue. And the other good news is that there actually wasn’t a boob torture chamber, just a fancy looking x-ray machine. Mammograms really aren’t all that uncomfortable.
I am definitely not afraid of mammograms anymore, and you shouldn’t be either. Those shirts they make you were though—ugh—now that is something to dread.