October 11, 2012

October Breast Cancer Awareness Month- Mammogram survival guide

There are huge number of websites that list risk factors, symptoms, prognosis, treatment options etc for breast cancer. There is no need to repeat them here. www.mdanderson.org is one of my favorites, not just for finding out about cure rates, but for patient stories! Those are mostly positive, encouraging and good adverts for the cancer center too. Sure, people get cured from cancer, some recover partially and some not..

When it comes to mammograms, you can not find bigger coward than I am. I was supposed to have my first mammogram when I turned 40, but I did not go. It was in the back of my mind more than once, but I always managed to push it further back and then it did not bother me for months and months. Until thyroid WBS discovered suspicious lymph nodes in January 2012. Awww. Mammogram time.

One benefits of working in hospital is that I can usually track down the people I need to talk to. This is how I found the radiologist, who works in mammograms, sitting her face glued onto computer screen examining films. I explained what the situation was, and that panic had set in. I do not want to have mammogram, but boo hoo I may really need it now and it is better to appear voluntarily, than being dragged in in handcuffs and shackles. That would be a cartoon moment! Sure. When I entered the radiologist's den, I did not expect to undergo mammogram in next few moments, but there I was, still not really wanting to be there, but at the same time quite fascinated by all that was going on.
Pain? Yes, there was some, but it's not as bad as e.g. broken bone. It is fleeting, momentary pain, that passes as soon as your breast is no longer squeezed between the "plates". At one point all I was seeing was black, realized I would pass out, but then the exam came to an end. It was not comfortable for sure. My pain threshold can be quite high, but it depends entirely on if I am in there voluntarily, depends on what's being done. Of course I tried to wriggle away from the pain/discomfort. No one really likes it, well, not all of us anyway. Pain caused by pap smear is almost intolerable, but somehow I have survived several of those too.. but that's another story another time.
Relief? Yes, it was done. Nothing malignant was found. I did not cry, pass out, laugh hysterically, run out screaming out of the exam room. I did not punch the radiology tech- who by the way one of the most compassionate individual I have ever met.
Humiliated? No, no. I can't say I was. Not at all. It was nowhere as bad as pap smear. Ask for female technologist if you feel more comfortable that way.
Would I go back again...? Yes, and no. I guess I would. With painkiller. I truly don't know if Brufen, Tylenol or similar would make any difference, but it is worth a try. Schedule mammogram sometime in your mid-cycle. It turned out that my period started the day after- perhaps this is why I had quite severe pain at times.
Don't believe everything they write in the Internet. Google can be your worst enemy as well as best friend when it comes to finding more information about mammograms. Don't take my word for it either, go and get it done. You can always run screaming out of the room, and never return. You could also have quite a good experience and it encourages you to go back. Take someone with you, take painkiller, take Valium, have a drink, but go anyway.

Encourage your female family members and friends to get it done too.

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