A Very Squishy Public Service Announcement

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so I'm rerunning an old post I originally published last fall.

This summer I got a birthday card from my health insurance company. 
"Congratulations!" it read.  "You're 36!  To help you celebrate, we'd
like to pay for you to have your tender anatomy squeezed into shapes
flatter than God ever could've possibly intended!  Happy birthday!"

I'm kidding.  It actually said something about "being responsible
with your breast health," and "getting your first mammogram" and I
thought with great thankfulness that I was glad my health insurance
takes preventative women's health seriously.

And I also thought that I would've enjoyed a Sonic gift card a lot more.

But I'd been doing my homework, and I knew that having a mammogram
in your mid-thirties is a very good idea, even if you don't have a
family history of breast cancer.  It hopefully gives you and your
doctor a healthy baseline for later mammograms, in case future problems
arise. 

Since I know that many of you reading this are my age or younger,
and maybe you've never had a mammogram yourself, I thought I'd use this
as an opportunity to be frank with you about what a mammogram is really
like.  Knowledge is power, right?  I'm kind of a wimp ("kind of?" says
my husband), and I was a little nervous about the test.  You hear
horror stories now and then–were they true? 

So here we go.  Frankly.

In preparation, they tell you not to wear any lotions, perfume or
deoderant before you test.  (No worries on my end, though I'm not sure
I can say the same for the moms around me at preschool drop-off). 
Deoderant can cause false positives, they explained, so it's an
important guideline to follow.  Another good piece of advice?  Check
your calendar and schedule your mammogram at the point in your cycle
when you're least likely to feel tender.

I arrived at the House O' Squishing this morning.  I checked in at
the front desk, and they handed me a pink lapel ribbon and a pink
bottle of water.  Then I sat down on the pink sofa to fill out my pink
paperwork while sitting next to a pink sculpture of two breasts.

Evidently, they were going for a bit of a motif.

The tech (would you like to guess the color of her scrubs?) called
me to the back, and she had me undress from the waist up.  She gave me
a pink and white floral poncho for a cover-up, because you know that nothing restores your dignity like a pink and white floral poncho.

After I changed, the tech led me into the exam room, where two additional techs were waiting.  There were three of them.  Three?  I gulped.  Good grief, does it take three of them?  Does someone have to hold me down? 
They must have seen my flicker of nerves, because they warmly laughed. 
The woman, who was clearly the Squisher In Chief, told me they were
doing some training today.  Squisher In Chief told me that she's a
mammography educator who has been teaching at MD Anderson in Houston
for 20 years.  She was there to train the other techs about the latest
techniques for "getting every possible bit of tissue in the scan."

Alrighty then.  This sounds like fun.

Off came the poncho, and the (three!) techs applied (pink!)
stickers.  They're locaters, they told me, to help the radiologist know
what's what.  I think there's a punchline there, but you'll just have
to go for it yourselves.

The scanner itself was not what I expected–you know, no skulls and
crossbones or piercing, vibrating electrodes.  It looked less like a
torture device and more like a popcorn popper.  The squisher panel
(that would be the technical term) on top appeared to be made of
acrylic, considerably less scary than, you know, the cement block I had
envisioned.  The corners were rounded, and the machine (despite the
horror stories I'd heard) was pleasantly warmed. 

Squisher In Chief began positioning me on the popcorn popper.  There
was no room for modesty in that scan room, but that's okay.  These
women were there to do a job, and that requires a good bit of, um, handling
The Squisher In Chief and I are verrrrrrry intimate now.  But she was
professional, and remarkably, she kept me at ease the whole time.  And
I felt some comfort in knowing that this was going to be thorough.

So.  The moment of truth.  The positioning was over and the squishing began.  And you know what?

It was no big deal.

Even though the Squisher In Chief was there for extra thoroughness, and even though I'm a wimp, and even though (I'll be honest) I've had thicker pancakes than that…IT WAS NO BIG DEAL.   The squishing was tight, but there was no pain.

They squished me four times (two on each side), and none of them
hurt.  The entire process, even with the extra training The Chief was
doing, was done in under ten minutes. 

When it was over, and I was straightening my lovely poncho, I told
The Chief that I was a blogger, and I'd probably write about this. 
What, I asked her, is the one thing she'd like women to know about
their breast health?

She didn't hesitate.  "Tell them not to depend on just a mammogram or just a self-exam.  The process is three-fold:  they must have mammograms and BSEs
and have manual clinical exams by a doctor.  There are some tumors we
can feel but can't see.  There are some tumors we can see but can't
feel.  You must take control of your health and do all three, faithfully."

And there you have it, straight from The Chief.  And I'm vouching for her, because she and I are verrrry intimate.

She went on to tell me that she had scanned women who were having
their first mammogram in their 80's, because they had been too
frightened to come in earlier.  And I'm telling you, that is just a
shame, because there is nothing to fear about a mammogram.  Breast
cancer would be way scarier than a little squish.

Call your doctor or health insurance company to find out what your
options are, even if you're under 40.  If you don't have health
insurance, Google "free mammogram" or call your local hospital to ask
what resources are available. 

Be strong.  Be squished.

36 thoughts on “A Very Squishy Public Service Announcement

  1. Christi says:

    I had my first mammogram last year and it really wasn’t as bad as I had feared. Plus I got to go somewhere without my kids. Now I love my kids but I don’t always get to go to the bathroom by myself (ok, I usually don’t go to the bathroom without someone wanting something vitally important.)
    Great post!

  2. Jean says:

    Thanks for your sharing your experience. I had a baseline done at 35 – my aunt who had recently discovered she had breast cancer was insistent upon it, and thankfully my dr & ins co were agreeable. You are right that it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone else had made it out to be. And I’m sure it’s way less uncomfortable than having breast cancer.

  3. Melissa says:

    Had my first at 23. I found a lump while eight months pregnant with my son. The OBGYN wanted to write it off as a clogged milk duct because I was pregnant. I listened to him (because I was young) and let it go for two months. When my son was one month old I went to a specialist and had the mammogram. It was NOT a clogged milk duct. Had to have it removed and luckily it was benign. I’ve had mammograms yearly since. I’m now 36. They really are no big deal. I don’t find it even uncomfortable. Well except for the fact that every year I have to let yet another new person see them. lol
    Moral of the story it’s never too young to have a mammogram. And if my very tender, nursing breasts could handle The Squisher anyone can do it. 🙂

  4. Beth B. says:

    Thank you for posting this and sharing your story. You always hear how awful it is but my story is the same as yours – it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. Women need to hear that more often. And also thank you for the reminder to call and get mine scheduled.

  5. Kathryn says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m 27 and was not looking forward to it even though I have a few more years. I think it’s funny how everything is pink. October is my favorite month because everything comes in pink but the pink sculpture sounds like overkill! 🙂

  6. Leann says:

    wow! thank you soooo much for sharing that! I’m turning 30 in a matter of days, and lately I have been mulling over just how close I’m getting to some of those really not so fun tests. What great insight, to know that it’s not as bad as ‘they’ say.
    I’m going to put ‘call and find out how early I can get mammogram with insurance coverage’ on my to-do list.

  7. Jennifer McGuire says:

    This was a great post! I think mammograms and a colonoscopy are two of the scariest things but you put in in perspective….oh…and don’t worry…no one expects you to blog about the latter. LOL!

  8. Linda Sue says:

    Hooray for brave women – I’m MUCH older than you and have been squished poked and prodded over many years. Recently – due to inability to GET health insurance have had to rely on free mammograms and found a wonderful program our county sponsors. Totally free – no income level or anything to qualify and they treated me like it was their honor to do it!
    Don’t be afraid of the squishy and for goodness sakes y’all get your colon health checked on also –

  9. Monique in TX says:

    Hahahaha! I had mine this morning. I think the tech trained at the Torquemada School of Mammography. It *hurt*, but it was still infinitely preferable to surgery or chemo.

  10. Princess Lei says:

    I had my first at 23/24 (wow…has it really been almost 10 years?!!) due to a lump under my arm, near the arm pit. Nine months, a chest CT, a breast sono, multiple exams by the doc, lots of antibiotics, anti-virals, and anti-fungals later, they removed a benign lump. And then another the next year. The third showed up a few years later, but disappeared after I breastfed my firstborn (a breastfeeding miracle!).
    I think I still have the letter from the hospital saying “you’re clean, come back when you’re 40.”
    It only hurt because they had to get the already painful lump into the picture, but it really wasn’t that bad.
    Keep in mind ladies that your “breast” tissue isn’t just the melons up front – keep checking in and around those pits too!

  11. kay says:

    Yesterday was my ‘day’. I’m old so I go annually now. And yep, no big deal. (little squishy, a little cold, but thats IT) Since most places have gone digital now, I’m in and out in under 15 minutes. Love it!
    (the only thing that’s pink where I go are the ponchos!)

  12. Jane Anne says:

    I am glad you re-ran this. Last year when I read it, I thought, “I need to do that.” Now, it’s me that’s 36 and I still need to do that. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement.

  13. Rebecca (Ramblings by Reba) says:

    I’ll be 35 my next birthday (in March). I fully expect to be told it’s time for my obituary when I have my next gynecological exam in January. It’s funny… I’m not at all worried about a mammogram. But I appreciate the first-hand info. Knowledge IS power.

  14. mimi2seven says:

    Excellent post that will encourage women to go for it! It’s just not a big deal…..especially if you go during the time of month when your breasts are the least tender. I do have to pass on my all-time favorite mammogram joke: The best way to prepare for a mammogram is to close your boob in the refrigerator door! Just joking!!!! It really does not hurt.

  15. Angie says:

    I was diagnosed with Stage III-B breast cancer two years ago at age 35. I had never had a mammogram. Had no reason to (or so I thought). There was no family history of cancer. Period. But what I thought was a blocked milk duct while nursing my baby turned into a horrible nightmare. But, praise God, I just celebrated 2 years breast cancer free (we won’t talk about the thyroid cancer that showed up a year ago… sigh.)
    Thank you for spreading the word. Get checked. A little squish and squirm is worth it… so worth it!

  16. *~Michelle~* says:

    Save the Ta-Tas!!!!!!!!!
    I just love your hilarious yet educational post……I have been getting my boobies squished since I was about 32 due to some abnormal growths that I have had taken out, biopsied, etc. Praising God they have all been benign….
    And yes, it’s not the most pleasant thing to do…..but it really is NO BIG DEAL, like you said. Sometimes we just have to suck it up and get it done. I do it for my family because I want to be around to be their mom as long as possible.
    thanks for the great reminder and pep rally for many women who might think of blowing it off!
    xox
    *~Michelle~*

  17. Shannon says:

    Yours is a compelling story–and a perfect reason we should all be vigilant! So glad to hear you beat the breast cancer, and hoping many good things for you and your family.

  18. Brigid says:

    After nursing two children, I looked at the squisher when she was finished and said “That’s it?” No one bit me. No one scratched me. And I got to read a magazine in the waiting room. It was a good day – OK, maybe I need to get out more…

  19. Erica says:

    I has a mamogram at 25, because of some concerning lumps, and it was the MOST painful thing I have ever done. I was told it hurts more when you’re young. I can’t say, but I hope to NEVER have another mamogram. I hope by the time I am 40ish they have some other method. It made tears well up in my eyes, against my control. The woman would take a pic, leave to show the radiologist, and then come back to say she needed more pics. It was awful.

  20. The Park Wife says:

    ooooh, glad to read this. My first one is scheduled later this month and I am not excited about the flattening process. Also, I was worried because I am quiet modest, stripper was not ever on my list of what I want to be when I grow up (for many reasons, but modesty was the clincher).
    Thanks for the encouragement!
    The Park Wife

  21. pippilngs says:

    AS a 6 year breast cancer survivor at 51, I can vouch for the effectiveness of mammograms. I skipped a year. The next year the radiologist saw something she described as “funny” so she did a biopsy, which was positive. Even when we knew where the lump was, neither the surgeon nor I could feel it. My cancer was removed, and was very close, but did not extend past the duct it was in. Without the mammogram, I’d have been looking at a whole lot worse cancer by the time either my gynecologist or I could have felt it. AS it was I had a lumpectomy and radiation and keep my follow-up appointments now and don’t worry about the future. It won’t be your favorite way to spend an afternoon, but BELIEVE ME, it beats the alternative!!!!

  22. Daniele says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. At 29, I found a lump in January and my OB/GYN said it was nothing but I was not thrilled with that answer. So I called my primary care doctor and had her schedule me a Mammogram which I was completely scared of and there was nothing at all to be afraid of. I had heard horror stories and didn’t have any idea of what to expect. The tech made me feel comfortable and told me everything she was doing. After that I was told by my doctor that I needed an ultrasound because there was something there that they wanted to further exam, which completely freaked me out. After the ultrasound they did see a tumor and a ridge of tissue along the side and said it was benign but went ahead and referred me to a surgeon. It is in fact a benign breast tumor and right now I am living with it because I am a little scared about getting it out. But I will continue to monitor it and have a mammogram every year. Early detection is the best and women need to vigilant at an earlier age that starting at 40, I personally think it should be mandatory for every year beginning at 20.

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