Tuesday, 10 February 2015

What to wear for a mammogram

My breasts got clamped today, like I'd somehow parked them illegally and would need to pay a fine to get them back. Almost as odd is the idea that anyone would happily let a stranger stick her breasts between two metal plates and then just stand there while the plates move closer and closer and closer together. And when she's told not to breathe, does she try to run? No, she doesn't breathe! When your breast is clamped I suspect you'd hop on one foot and tell bad jokes if you were instructed.

This was my first mammogram and I had been imagining vivid scenes of a clamper that malfunctions and squeezes my wee melons into horrifying juice, followed by scenes of lawyers, suffering, and a book deal. I scoured the net for testimonials of other women who had undergone mammograms to allay my fears. Knowledge is power.

Here's what I found out:  some women said the pain of a mammogram is worse than childbirth. And, if you have small breasts, it’s unendurable torture. Assorted trusted friends have called the procedure "Draconian," "medieval," and "barbaric," and have vowed never to have another one. Clearly, knowledge is cowardice.

When I called to book my appointment, I expressed concern at having very little breast tissue to work with. The administrator chirped back (yes, chirped), "Oh ha-ha, no need to worry, we can even do mammograms on men!" Of course they can; I've seen many with C and D cup sizes. They can probably do mammograms on grasshoppers too. I was not reassured. The chirpy voice only made me more suspicious of the procedure and more convinced she was wearing pink!

So it was with a heavy foot on the gas pedal that I drove to my appointment today. I said my good-byes to my husband the night before, who had, incidentally, been researching hydraulic metal presses for the past couple of days. He sincerely hoped my appointment went well, anything to shut me up, "How about MEN put their WIENERS in a VISE and see how THEY LIKE IT?!!!" I dressed in head-to-toe thrifted Spirit Armour: psychedelic socks, D&G pony shoes, psychedelic palazzo pants, psychedelic Oriental motif oversized blouse, maxi muppet coat, and the biggest neon lips that my lip-liner would allow.
They instruct you to wear a loose-fitting top and a "support bra,"
no deodorant. My Spirit Armour  (view from the hanger) sprayed good vibes
indiscriminately all over the clinic, providing relief for many frazzled nerves.
The old, low-rise building that housed the clinic had heavily barred windows all the way around, which of course made me wonder if it was to keep intruders out or to keep us in? Given its skid-row appeal, I would have expected to find GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! painted on its exterior walls instead of "X-rays, Mammography, Ultrasounds." Not hearing any screaming, I went in.

The exam room had just enough space for the torture device, the scientist, me and a chair, and the control area. It was slightly dark, which was restful or simply camouflage for putrefaction on the floor. Hm? My technician wore a crisp cotton uniform, not leather dominatrix gear, and in her hand was a clipboard, not a whip. I confessed to her that I was terrified and told her about my juice nightmare. Then she cleverly lulled me into a state of relaxation with her patience, kindness, and professionalism, as she expertly positioned my tah-tahs on the plate, which she had fitted with a plastic adaptor for my size. The machine rotated and tilted quietly as she guided it into optimal positioning.

She took four images, two on each side, one set with boobs squished top to bottom, and one set squished side to side. The maximum pressure exertion lasted less than 3 seconds, during which time you're not to breathe, but then the pressure is quickly released. The entire process took about 10 minutes, including a few wasted on my juice nightmare.

No bad jokes were told, except in the waiting room. No hopping on one foot was demanded. No screams, no tears, no hideous bruising, which I'd read about online as well. In fact, the pain was not much worse than what I'd feel smushing myself into shapewear one size too small. The whole experience reminded me of threading my serger for the first time. I became so terrified of doing it after reading the online tribulations of other women that I didn't touch my machine for a few months. When I finally tried it I wondered what the fuss was about. 

So, if you've had fears about having a mammogram, especially if you're small-chested, this has been my experience for what it's worth. At the clinic I chatted with a few women who've had lots of mammograms and in their opinion the new machines make the process much more comfortable. Frankly, I was shocked by how smoothly everything went.

Now I shall go have pancakes to celebrate health care, which reminds me of Connie, her dog, and Coco Chanel, here. I'm glad I can get free yearly breast screening in Canada if I want it, well, if paying half your income in taxes qualifies as "free." But that's another blog post. Have you ever had such a positive mammogram experience? 

PS I put an edit on my last post.

35 comments:

  1. Having experienced both childbirth and mammograms, I can say the latter is far, far easier and not in the same league, pain-wise! Like you, I found the whole mammogram procedure quick, professional and only mildly uncomfortable at worst. Nothing to stress about, nothing to fear. And we get them free too, so it's all good.
    Glad yours wasn't anything like as bad as you anticipated! xxx

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  2. Every now and then, I drive H.I. up to the car-park where her scanning machine waits for her in a huge trailer - a travelling tit-press. She says, as you do, it is uncomfortable but not unbearable. It is somehow unfair that women have to go through many more uncomfortable things like this than men, and I've always thought that we get off pretty lightly - not least with childbirth. Also, our livers are 7 times more resistant to damage from alcohol than women's. Now that is unfair.

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  3. Once you get over 45 I think the old Mamos are free and done every two years. Having ample boobage I have found the squeeze and squash has been vice like, but this year it was pain free and easy peasy. For the few minutes of discomfort it is worth having the girls get their warrant of fitness. As for worse than child birth, NO! Childbirth lasts longer for sure. Good on you for seeing to your girls.

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  4. I'm so glad you didn't listen to Miz Bagg, who I'm sure told you that the plates on the machine had spikes and sandpaper. But they only use those plates for the women who are total beyatches. For us charming people it's not so bad. Sometimes I have more pain just getting out of a chair.

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  5. Yes, being also miniscule in the chestic region, I have had similar experiences to you.
    Glad you spread your neon cheer far and wide. I'm sure it helped distract those waiting to be pancaked!
    Xo Jazzy Jack

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  6. As head of the total IttyBittyTitty Committee, I would like to say that the mammogram itself is not really painful for me at all... The worry of if they will find a lump is!! My mom had breast cancer, so I'm always a bit worried! Glad you got it done!
    Your outfit is a dreammmmmm!

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  7. I cracked up the first time I saw my boobs all squished out flat on the mammo tray. Blue Plate Special! The only uncomfortable part for me was the corner of the plate pressed up into my armpit at one point, but it was over quickly enough.

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  8. Bravo to you Melanie! You made it and celebrated with oh so ironic pancakes. So proud of you. I've had many mammos over the years and none really hurt nearly so much as the bill. PArty on! XO

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  9. Good to hear about your experience, Melanie, and wrote about it. Which reminds me, I have to have one soon.

    The ones I have had in the past were a tad uncomfortable but not painful. But I thought that my not-painful experience was because my bazooms are cup FF! (yes you read that right - many women are wearing the wrong cup size and I found the best site for measuring and wearing the right bra - changed my boob life forever!)

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  10. This story reminds me of my very first mammo appointment. I sat in the waiting room just long enough to decide I needed to get outta there. So I ran out and jumped in my car! As I drove away I realized that I'd just had my first anxiety attack. I didn't go back again for 8 years. I only have one about every 3 years so I'm a lazy one to talk about preventative healthcare. I also have smaller than most manboobs but I haven't experienced any real pain, just uncomfortable squishage.
    Glad you got through your first smash session. Here's to many more healthy films! Yay to your boobs!

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  11. The no breathing part is so difficult since my calming mantra is "Breeeeeeaaaaaattthh" in fact I found myself holding my breath while reading this post. So welcome to the sisterhood of the squished boobs. And don't go on the Internet before a medical appointment! I know from experience. It will scare the s#%t out of you! And thanks for the shout out. Pancake loves your coat. In fact, I think he may be in LOVE with your coat.

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  12. oh God! I completely forgot the fur :(
    Very good post. Best.

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  13. UNE FEMME: Blue Plate Special? Hahaha!

    CAROL: Do you have a link for that bra-fitting website?

    CONNIE: My coat loves your dog too. What will their children look like?

    TOM: Yes, men do certainly get off easy in some departments, but I wouldn't want to be a soldier.

    OTHERS: A couple of women in the waiting area laughed when I mentioned the pain-worse-than-childbirth comment. Really, who writes this stuff online?

    ETC: I couldn't have pancakes because it was past 2:00pm. Why do places quit serving breakfast so early in the day?! It's a mystery of the universe.

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  14. Congrats on surviving your first boob squish! I've had a lot of mammograms in the last 5 years so I am very familiar with the uncomfortable squeezing, but in the end, it's a minor inconvenience compared to having breast cancer. I also did an outfit post about what to wear to a mammogram (great minds think alike...) but my outfit was not as spectacular as yours!

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  15. I've been getting a mammogram once a year for the past 10 years. Because 10 years ago I had breast cancer. Believe me, it's a minor, minor few seconds out of your life.

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  16. No, I've had a gazillion mammograms and they all sucked. Like you, I'm small. Once I passed out. And I've given birth to two kids without drugs. But, yes, they're worth it. Essential, actually.

    And, like you, I have always maintained that if men were in the same danger of dying from testicular cancer that women are from breast cancer, and the only test available was to put their balls in that machine, somebody would come up with a more comfortable alternative. Just sayin'.

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  17. CONNIE P: Wow! Yes, that DEFINITELY sucks. Plus, you've had a bunch of them. I truly wish there was a better method!!

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  18. glad it wasn't too painful... But more importantly, what did they think of your outfit?

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  19. Best dressed and bravest award goes to you. Sorry about the pancakes. I mean the absence of pancakes to eat, not your flattened tits.

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  20. Here you go, Melanie. http://www.reddit.com/r/ABraThatFits/wiki/beginners_guide

    This makes soo much sense to me - you measure five different ways, and the hanging at 90 degrees is just brilliant. (I always wondered when you go to fittings at a store how they could guess your correct size while wearing an improperly fitted bra in the first place).

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  21. I loved this story! I have yet to have one, though my doctor did mumble a few words about it a couple of years ago. I even live in walking distance of the hospital where it is performed. Of course, I would not go to any sort of vaguely invasive procedure if not harassed, which is the strategy my dentist uses. I happily read all of the articles which say mammograms are pointless. Thanks for sharing your story so amusingly and for giving me another excuse. I could never assemble such a fabulous mammogram outfit so I guess I just can't go. xoxo

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  22. The jury, according to much of the scientific data, still seems to be out on the efficacy of screening, but talking to people who have gone through breast cancer is motivating.
    Don't worry too much about what you wear - you have to take off half your clothes anyway. Ha.

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  23. awww Melanie, great story. For whatever reason that's something I'm not fearful of. Although I haven't gone in for one since 2011. Up til then I went regularly every year or two since I was of age. The one thing I have avoided is the colonoscopy. I'm beyond the age when the doctor starts bugging you to get it down and I just don't want to do it! And I know people who have, etc. but yuck, puck, etc.

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  24. Anytime I have had a medical whatever I will wear something fabulous, I do aspire to your awesome fabulous-ness though - I find it helps, like armour, ready for battle, just in case - anyhoo, It's so good you have had your mammogram, I haven't had one yet, I didn't know the machine rotated! you have reassured me though x x x

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  25. I've never had a mammogram... but I do love pancakes.

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  26. CAROL: Thanks for posting that link to the bra-fitting site - five different ways to measure?! It's way more complicated than a mammo. Heh.

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  27. I had one a few years ago and despite all the warnings and not being very well endowed, I didn't feel a thing.
    Its always good to face something unpleasant by dressing to the nines and you did just that.
    Hope the results were clear. xxxx

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  28. I read the first line of you post this morning, grinned and put it away for a leasure moment to enjoy it. Knowing very well it would be a terrific post. And you did not disappoint.
    Great article. Loved every word. Had to laugh over the comments too. Especially the IttyBittyTitty Committee, haha.
    I have been to these check-ups many times, being 60. From about 45 or 50 I think. They are for free in The Netherlands too.
    I once said to the nurse that she had flattened my boobs while they had been so perky that morning. She laughed and said: " if that was us and the machine, if we could do that, we could also do the reverse and be very much in business!"
    Greetje

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  29. I'm not going to complaint, even if I go to mammogram my girls once a year, because it's just a little bit annoying, as you've described. And everything is easier if you're appropriate dressed up, wearing psychedelic prints and lots of lipstick, I agree!!. I usually need an extra dose of psychedeliciousness every time I go to the doctor!
    besos & girls

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  30. I've never found mammograms that bad. Mildly annoying. A few long seconds of discomfort. To me it's NOTHING compared to the dentist! 30 minutes of a cleaning of my ultra-sensitive teeth is torture!

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  31. Your first mammogram!? I've had many over the years and wondered why women made such a fuss of it. But at the last session it felt as though my nipples were going to shoot out of my body as if I were a cartoon character. It lasts only seconds so I would never let it stop me having a check-up. I agree with WendyB that a trip to the dentist is the thing to get jumpy about. I'm an abject coward about the dentists.

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  32. I'm really glad to hear that it isn't too traumatic! Great to have a personal account like this to go on.xx

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  33. I'm glad to hear that the nightmare you had envisioned did not come to fruition. I'm quite big chested and find mammograms incredibly painful. I would have appreciated being distracted by your Spirit Armour. Luckily, the pain is only for a few seconds--so bearable. Having had breast cancer 7 years ago, it's a necessary evil (however, the one year I didn't have a mammogram, I discovered the lump on my own -- go figure). With mammograms or any kind of painful medical procedure, I've always wondered why patients aren't provided with some interesting artwork to look at. Instead one has to look at plain walls and machinery. I tell every technician they need artwork on the walls but alas, nothing.

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  34. JOYATRI: I am sorry to hear that this is a painful procedure for you. I ABSOLUTELY 100% agree that visual distractions would be an extremely valuable tool for helping patients relax. I have always wondered why dentists and gynecologists don't have a Where's Waldo type of poster on the ceiling at the very least! They even make glasses that play movies on the lenses. Why not?!! GAAAA!

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  35. I'm binge-reading your posts, Melanie, and I'm in awe. With your creative, quirky, crazy mind, your hallucinating, unique style and your super slim body and bluer then blue eyes.

    Really!

    I can't get over how many furry coats you have, psychedelic patterns, bright colors, sequins...envy!

    There's not that much to thrift in either of my home towns, let alone interesting, funky stuff:-(

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