No one wants to experience the moment of finding “a lump.” The discovery itself can be unnerving, as is the explosion of thoughts that follow the discovery, all pointing towards “what does this mean?” and “what happens next?”
Being the wise and take action woman that you are, what this means, and what happens next, is that you reach out for help, straight away. Talk to your family doc asap, and he or she will more than likely do a physical exam, then make a referral to your local breast clinic, where they will do a mammogram.
Why? Because a mammogram is a low dose x-ray with a highly effective track record for detecting early cancer. Detecting cancer, or even pre-cancer early, is fantastic as it tends to be the most treatable then.
Cancer is a big, heavy, scary word. It carries a lot of association from our own family and friend experiences, as well as from the culture in which we live. It does not have to be as heavy as it feels. If it helps, in your head you can remove the word “cancer” entirely and focus on the mammogram being an early detector of unhealthy cells.
Anything new or unknown has a sneaky habit of feeling scary, and when we feel scared, it feels good to know that someone is there who understands the fear, and can help us move through it. So here is what to expect from your first mammogram - because it really isn’t scary at all, and it is a pro-active step you can take to empower yourself and your health.
1. You’ll check in with the breast clinic with your MD’s requisition for the mammogram, and they’ll likely have you fill in some paperwork.
2. You’ll be called into a discrete change room and then invited to don a hospital gown (from the waist up), leaving bottoms on.
3. The lovely technician will bring you into the mammogram room, where she will invite you to remove one arm, or the entire gown if you are comfortable.
4. You will stand in front of the very large machine, and be invited to place one breast on the plate, leaning forward in a kind of squishy way. Your arm may be raised above your head and draped over the machine in front of you. And yes, it’s warm.
5. The tech will gradually and gently lower the second plate, so that your breast becomes more flattened. Surprisingly, this does not hurt. It can feel uncomfortable and awkward, but in terms of pain, particularly if you are someone who breastfed, it’s more a mild discomfort than anything else.
6. The tech will then go to her photo taking station and take photos of the breast to show the radiologist.
7. You may be invited to repeat on the other side.
8. Chances are the radiologist can look at the photos there on site (depending on the clinic), while you change back into the gown and wait.
9. Depending on what they do or do not see, you might be invited into another room to do an ultrasound of the breast as well. The ultrasound (just like you had for your baby to be, but on your breast, not belly), is a closer look at what is going on in your breast tissue, and involves you lying on a rolled up towel, arm and breast out of the gown, while they use the wand and warm gel to take a look.
10. Then you wipe the gel off, get dressed, and go home.
All these images give the radiologist some insight as to what is happening, and how the lump you’ve found presents itself. It’s a very non-invasive way to get diagnostic imaging and give a bigger, better picture, and does not need to be feared.
Think of it as a next level check up to get a clear sense of your breast health, and the first way point on a road map of how to navigate any further action involved in keeping you healthy and well.
You’ve got this.