Breast Exams

So I had my first breast exam this morning. The take a picture kind, not the regular feel you up kind. [Just to be clear – it was a screening, nothing to worry about…unless I happen get a weird result. But until then, no worries.] I just wanted to share my experiences in case there were other women out there like me who had no idea what to expect.

First, if you are a young woman in a breast imaging clinic, people apparently look at you. I wasn’t prepared for that. You go to any clinic anywhere and you’re just another anonymous someone. But be aware that at the breast imaging clinic, the go-to place for cancer screening and diagnosis, if you look relatively young people may give you that “aww, so young, such a shame” look whether it’s appropriate to your situation or not. There was another young woman there who was quite upset, probably because she really was afraid she has cancer (well we’re all concerned of that, but it was apparent that she must have been there for a diagnostic scan rather than a screening). I think I interpreted the looks a certain way because I wasn’t concerned, since I was just there for a check. I wonder how I would have interpreted those looks if I was that other young woman.

Anyway, so they told me to show up 20 minutes early and I don’t know why offices always do that because it 99% of the time translates to “wait 20 minutes longer”. But I am a punctual person, and was concerned I wouldn’t find the place, so I showed up on time and registered…and waited 20 minutes longer. Goddammit. Ah, but then they gave me a johnny shirt and a hospital robe. It was fan-tastic. Sitting around in public without a bra on? Oh yeeeeeaah. Talk about comfort. No sarcasm there, I’m totally serious.

Then they called me in. The radiologist asked me a bunch of questions about my period, pregnancy, hormone medications, past surgeries (i.e., did I ever have a boob job? — I’m somewhat nonsensically flattered that she didn’t just look at me and go “oh no need to ask this one, hehe”), etc. That took less than 5 minutes. Then came the scan.

It’s kind of cold, as hospitals tend to be, but I was allowed to wear my johnny shirt anyway (except over the arm on the side of the currently-imaged boob) as per procedure at that particular clinic. The screen I had was on a diagonal — so the imaging device was 45 degrees relative to the sagittal plane of my body (that’s a line drawn from my head to my feet, cutting the body in 2 identical halves). This is apparently called a Mediolateral-oblique (MLO) screening view. The link has all the technical detail. I’ll describe what it felt like.

I was thrust up to this machine (cold) and my breast was placed between (cold) vice grips. That’s what it feels like — pressure. Lots of it. My arm was up around the (cold) machine to get out of the way, my chin was up, the (cold) corner of the thing was jammed in my armpit, my breast was being compressed (seriously it’s a lot — like you expect that it’s a lot and then you get there and it’s like “wow, it’s a lot…I didn’t know my boob could get that flat”) and I was told to relax my pec muscle. Relax? I almost laughed. But I tried the best I could to relax in this weird position that makes you tense up simply because you have to hold yourself in such a weird position in the first place. Then they compressed a little at a time, and it was kind of funny because they compressed and stopped and I was like “boy this is uncomf-” and then they compressed more than I thought possible.

Even though I say that, the pressure wasn’t bad. It lasted for about less than a minute for each breast and then it was over. It was definitely uncomfortable, though. When I say “not bad” I’m referring to length of time, not amount. I would rate the “pain”/discomfort about a 2-3 out of 10. Definitely enough to feel it and call it unpleasant, but nowhere near severe and it was over quickly. When standing in that weird position, cold, having my chin up, having my breast pulled away from me like that and then smushed, I found it very hard to breathe — which is one way to endure discomfort. So I just had to endure on my own. But, again, it was less than a minute each time and it wasn’t anything worse than getting blood drawn, having a pap smear, or any other temporarily invasive examination. Key word = temporary. It was all over in about 10 minutes. I felt it a bit in the waiting room afterwards, as I waited to hear if I needed additional scans (I didn’t), but by the time she told me I could leave (about 5 minutes later) I didn’t feel it anymore.

So, overall it took about 20 minutes plus waiting time and it wasn’t that bad. So ladies, even if you’ve never had issues with your breasts you can definitely make time to go get a screening at your local clinic. This gets you a baseline for normalcy and/or can detect early signs of issues. It’s not so bad and there are breast screening programs all over the country. And gentlemen, you have breast tissue too. The link has some signs and symptoms.

Good health, everyone.

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