image used as part of the Daily News Think Pink special section sponsored by UTMB Health featuring Dr. Colleen Silva with a patient reviewing mammogram results

Step up to the plate

Your first mammogram won't be as bad as you might think

(You want to do what to my what?) I knew what to expect when I showed up at the hospital for my first mammogram.

UTMB Health mammogram machine from the UTMB Mobile Mammogram van

I had talked to countless women who’d had them.

(Tell me every detail. Does it hurt? Do they get their shape back?)

But when the time came, I still couldn’t believe what they wanted to do to my breasts — those modestly sized extensions of myself that had fed my daughter and pleased their share of lovers in their day.

The receptionist takes my information, hands me a gown and tells me to disrobe from the waist up. She also tries to put my mind at ease.

“The worst part is the anxiety beforehand. Everybody is nervous. And, yes, they do bounce right back,” she says, reading my mind.

My appointment is for 11 a.m. By 11:15, I already feel compromised. It doesn’t help that I’m standing here in a hospital gown. At least I have my pants on. And the room is kind of pretty. All pastels and soft lighting.

Next, the tech comes in and explains that I’ll step up to the mammography machine and place my right breast on a platform — a thought that immediately sends me into a good 30 seconds of nervous giggles.

(I always thought I’d be placed on a pedestal someday, but this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.)

Then she’ll direct the machine to slowly clamp the plastic plates above and below my breast to flatten it out.

(Excuse me?)

“Not flat like a pancake,” she assures me. “More like a balloon that’s been pushed down.”

(Sister, you distinctly said “flatten.”)

“Your chart says you have dense breasts,” she says. “Sometimes that makes it harder to get a clear image. But you should be OK.”

(Yeah, the doc did tell me my breasts are dense. I didn’t know what he meant; I just took it as a compliment.)

“Ten days after the end of your period is the best time to get this done. It hurts less,” the tech says.

(OK, at least my timing is good. Wait … what? Hurts?)

I follow her instructions and step up to the plate, so to speak. She puts things in their proper place and battens down the hatches. I’m feeling panicky. It doesn’t seem normal, and I want out.

OK, I’m ignoring the pressure and that tiny twinge of pain. Not in my breast itself, but underneath where the machine is tugging my skin. I’m ignoring the feel of cold plastic and thinking instead of silk camisoles, a lover’s breath and the warm sun on that beach in Greece a lifetime ago. Things that make breasts happy.

And then, it’s over. A little discomfort, no real pain. That was the front view. Now, there’s a side view to be taken.

(What is this — a mug shot? Who’s being booked, me or my breasts? And what are the charges? Defying the laws of gravity? I wish. Am I the only one who thinks that’s funny?)

Each compression — and admittedly there are quite a few — lasts about 10 seconds. Having a mammogram isn’t exactly a pleasant experience, but if you get yourself into the right frame of mind, you can relax, even laugh, right up to the moment the machine clamps down on you.

Then you grit your teeth and curse the gene that made you a woman. Until, seconds later, you’re free again.

Then, of course, you remember you have two.

In this case, the left X-ray goes just as smoothly, and the whole study is done in about 20 minutes — most of them spent arranging and rearranging your breasts on the plate. Afterward, I’m watching a self-exam how-to narrated by Rita Moreno and Meryl Streep and sipping green tea in my gown when a doctor comes in to tell me I have “fine breasts.”

(Not exactly the scenario I would have wanted to hear that in, and I know you’re talking specifically about the insides but, hey, I’ll take it.)

“You take a good picture,” she says.

(All right, now, are you pulling my leg?)

No, she’s serious. It’s a clear image, so I don’t have to go back under the clamp. And most importantly, there are no masses. I’ll have to wait for my doctor’s final reading, but things look good.

Even from the outside, my poor battered breasts don’t look any worse for wear. And, yes, they’ve plumped right back up to their pre-compression shape.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Do yourself and the people who love you a favor and take care of your breasts. For the record, that means doing more than buying them lacy bras. It means eating right, exercising and doing regular breast self-exams. And if you’re over 40, don’t be a boob — get a mammogram.

To schedule a mammogram, call (409) 772-7150.

Learn more about UTMB Health’s Breast Health program

This feature ran as a story in the 2022 Think Pink special section of the Daily News. You can view the full  publication online or download the PDF.

This article originally appeared in The South Jersey Review and was reprinted by The Galveston County Daily News.

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