What to Expect for Your First Mammogram & Breast Ultrasound
Driving to my mammogram and ultrasound appointment the morning of was so surreal. Aaron worked for a couple of hours in the early morning and then took the rest of the day off to come with me and hang out with the kids during the test. Mine and Aaron’s mood was a little subdued, but the kids were thankfully oblivious to it; their biggest concern was who got to ride in the special seat first (the “special seat” is the other captain’s chair in the middle row; we put one of them there to split them up to hopefully minimize their bickering [it didn’t work]). I’m thankful that they never caught on to what all my doctor's appointments were for, and got to hold on to that innocence. It was on purpose, of course, but kids are way more perceptive than people realize, so I was really hoping they wouldn’t accidentally overhear anything. Happy to report that they didn’t.
Here’s what to expect for your first mammogram/ultrasound
First, you’ll be asked to undress from the waist up and put on a robe. The facility I went to had separate changing rooms and lockers to put your things in. The robe was flowery pink, which seemed fitting. I was relieved they had robes. I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d just be taking my shirt off and doing the mammogram without any kind of covering.
I then waited in a small and very private waiting room, with a couple other women. There was calming spa-type music playing in the background and pictures of the ocean and nature on the walls. The side tables had magazines to read and pamphlets about breast cancer and genetic screening.
When it was my turn, my personal tech came to get me and walked me into one of the mammogram rooms. She was so nice and talked me through everything. Because I’m so young, she had me tie a lead “skirt” around my waist to protect my womb from radiation. She had me show her where the lump was and put a special band-aid-like sticker on it to help focus the imaging there.
The tech will image your breasts one at a time from multiple angles. The first round is just a normal base mammogram, and then more focused diagnostic images of the lump area. The mammogram itself was different than I was expecting. I never felt like my boobs were being squashed into a flat pancake, it was less pressure than I was thinking it would be.
The tech will place your breast on the plastic platform, which is a little weird at first but you keep the robe on the whole time and only the breast being imaged is exposed. Also, all of the techs were women, which I think helps with the comfort level a lot. I was surprised at how high up breast tissue goes; the first angle was front on, and skin up to my collar bone area was placed in there.
The squeezing of my breast didn’t hurt, but the pulling was a bit uncomfortable on my collarbone. It’s pretty quick though. You’ll end up holding on to different parts of the machine to keep yourself in the right position, and having to hold your shoulder back or more forward, however she directs you. For me, the side view image was the most uncomfortable on my breast tissue, and I had to hold my arm awkwardly around the machine, but even that wasn’t horrible.
The Worst Part
Honestly, the worst part for me was having to hold my breath for the pictures. I was not expecting that at all, all of the reading I had done about mammograms before that never mentioned that part. After your breast is placed where it needs to be and the machine squeezes your breast, the tech will go behind a plastic shield to the computer and direct you on when to hold your breath and when to breathe. That was so hard because you hold your breath for the picture, and then she’ll tell you to go ahead and breathe but you can’t move, so I was taking super quick, shallow breaths so I wouldn’t move, and then had to hold my breath again without ever being able to catch my breath. I would take big deep breaths when she was repositioning me.
The whole process took about 15-20 minutes or so. When done, I headed back to the waiting room to wait for my ultrasound tech to get me.
The ultrasound was exactly like a pregnancy ultrasound, except on your breast. The ultrasound machine looks exactly the same and they use the same warmed-up goop. It was weird watching the ultrasound and not seeing your uterus though. I asked questions about what we were looking at because it was pretty interesting; you can see all the bands of tissue. She showed me the difference in an area where it was denser versus less dense. I encourage you to talk to your techs; they’re a wealth of information and talking during the process helped calm my nerves.
I was never able to find the lump laying down, only sitting up, so halfway through she had me sit up with my left arm in the air and she took images that way as well. The ultrasound only took about 10 minutes. She left the room to speak to the radiologist and came back just a few minutes later.
For your results, the radiologist or the tech will explain what was (or wasn’t) found. In my case, the ultrasound tech did. She got straight to the point: my mammogram and ultrasound were perfectly normal. They saw nothing of concern. I was honestly a bit shocked. She explained that the lump that we all felt was actually just normal breast tissue in that band of denser tissue that she had shown me during the ultrasound. She said to check it every month though, and if I notice any changes to have it checked by my doctor again, but as of right now absolutely nothing to worry about it.
NO CANCER!!! God is so so good. Like seriously. We were pretty freaked out leading up to that point, and there were times I was almost convinced that it was cancer. It was such massive relief to find out that I am perfectly, entirely, 100% fine. And my lump is just normal, albeit lumpy, breast tissue. Go figure, it wasn’t even a cyst.
Moral of the Story
Check your boobies, ladies. Every. Single. Month. I don’t care if you’re only 22 or 30 or 65, etc. Check. Your. Breasts. It is so so important to know what your normal breast tissue feels like, and if you notice anything different or if you even think that maybe something is different, call your doctor or an organization that can get you checked out so you know for sure. Don’t try to ignore something because it scares you. I understand the fear personally, but you can’t let it take you to a place of denial.
Chances are high that you’re perfectly fine, especially if you are under 40. Breast lumps are actually really common, and 8 out of 10 breast lumps that are found are not cancer, and only 7% of breast cancer cases happen in women under 40. But that does mean that 6% or so of cases do happen in younger women, so don’t ignore a lump or any of the other 12 breast cancer symptoms if you find one.
I can’t guarantee that I won’t get breast cancer someday. I have 0 control over that. Today though, I don’t have it, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I do understand that because of my family history I already have a higher risk than others, and because of that I’ve committed to lowering my other risks as much as I can.
Since the morning after I found that breast lump, I have been on a mission to get healthier. Being overweight increases your risk of a lot of cancers, including breast cancer, and I decided that I was going to do what I can do to lower my risk. I’m laser-focused on making healthier choices in my food and my activity level now. It’s not about being “skinny;” in fact, I don’t even want to be “skinny.” It’s about making daily choices to be healthier and do my part in preventing cancer. Research is showing even a 5% weight loss in overweight women can lower their risk of breast cancer by about 12%; a 15% weight loss can lower it by 37%. So far I’m at 8% and going strong.
It’s not a guarantee though; women who make super healthy choices their whole lives and have been at a healthy weight for their body have still ended up with breast cancer. But I know my risk is higher based on family history, and this lump opened my eyes to the reality that I’m not invincible. Cancer happens all the time, and it does not discriminate. I will do what I reasonably can to help lower my risk; for my family, for myself. I’m also choosing to not live in fear of what could possibly come, which is one reason I’ve chosen not to get the genetic testing done. I will make healthy choices but I will not live in fear; “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future” (Proverbs 31:25).