My first mammogram: What I learned

When I turned 40 and it was time to schedule my first mammogram, I was hesitant to do so. I’ve
heard many frightening stories about how painful and terrifying they
can be, and I had a lot of questions.

Should I take a day off of work to mentally prepare? Should I not
take a shower or wear deodorant the day of the appointment? Am I
mentally prepared to accept the test results? Should I practice yoga
poses before the procedure?  

I was so nervous I researched on every website available, read every
blog and watched every YouTube video until the mammogram was no longer
my concern. Instead, I allowed the internet to diagnose me with all
sorts of other illnesses and ailments.

So, many months after my 40th birthday, I finally drew up
the courage to schedule a mammogram. I work at MD Anderson, so I
decided to make an appointment at MD Anderson’s Cancer
Prevention Center
. Surprisingly, the professionalism of the
patient access representative calmed me immediately, and I scheduled
the mammogram just four days later.

My first mammogram

On the day of my appointment, I had similar interactions with
everyone I came in contact with. From parking to registration to the
X-ray to meeting the nurse practitioner for the first time, the entire
process was relaxed, organized and professional.

Of course, the mammogram was a bit uncomfortable, and yes, the
machine was cold. However, the procedure was quick, and each image
took only about 10 seconds.

The morning after my mammogram, the nurse practitioner called to
tell me that the screening showed a “suspicious” area and asked that I
come back as soon as possible. She indicated that the next visit would
require both a mammogram and an ultrasound.

Before the end of our conversation, I went into a panic and
immediately began thinking the absolute worst. Later that evening, I
was reminded by my mother that regardless of what the results could
be, I was at the right place and would be in the best hands at MD Anderson.

The next morning, I went to MD
Anderson’s
Undiagnosed Breast Clinic for the mammogram and
ultrasound. Again, MD Anderson’s staff
made me feel as if they were focused completely on me. I was not
merely a medical record number. I was important. An important person
with no idea what to expect nor what her test results would reveal.
This attention was ever so important and should be the standard for
every person experiencing any cancer screening. 

What I learned from my first mammogram

Fortunately, the follow-up appointment revealed that everything was
fine, and I will continue to have my yearly mammograms at MD Anderson. After that experience, here are a
few lessons I learned:

  1. You should bathe prior to your mammogram. If you
    are like me and take showers in the morning, try and schedule an
    early appointment. Although it’s suggested to skip deodorant and
    beauty creams before the mammogram, your care team will appreciate
    you having a bath. Also try wearing a two piece outfit so that you
    only have to remove the top part of your clothing for the X-Ray. No
    yoga experience needed.
  2. Don’t panic if you get a call back after your
    mammogram.
    An immediate follow-up appointment after your
    mammogram does not necessarily mean you have cancer, especially
    after your first mammogram. Your initial screening may reveal
    “suspicious” findings only because your doctors have no previous
    images to compare them to. Many times, extra views are needed
    because parts of the images were unclear and need further
    evaluation.
  3. Taking care of yourself is the best 40th birthday
    gift you could ever give yourself
    . Remember, a mammogram
    is preventive care. The purpose of the screening is to find cancer
    at an early stage. When and if cancer is found early, the chances
    for successfully treating the disease are the highest.

For me, MD Anderson debunked every myth
and made my first mammogram experience a significant milestone in
life. My hope is that every person’s first cancer screening is as
comfortable and memorable.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson’s Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention
Center online
or by calling 1-877-632-6789.