I Celebrated International Women’s Day with a Mammogram

My boob tweet

According to the American Cancer Society, women in my age bracket (45 to 54) should get mammograms every year. I got my annual mammogram recently. The technician, a friendly woman, told me that as long as everything was fine, I would just get a letter in the mail with the results; that as long as I didn’t get a phone call, I was in the clear. When I was done, I texted my daughters to say that I got my boobs squished and added a hashtag, #mammograms4life, to the end of my text. We are very close, my daughters and I. Not a lot of boundaries there. I thought I was so amusing that I tweeted it too!

The next day, I had my phone put away until well into the morning. When I finally looked at it, I had two messages, both related to my mammogram results. One was from late in the afternoon the previous day – meaning that whatever artifact the radiologist saw in my pictures must have been so ominous they rushed straight away to the phone to leave me a falsely cheerful message to “call the office as soon as possible.”

I was at work, in an hours-long meeting away from my office. I tried to call while everyone was milling around conference room before we headed off to lunch, but I was put on hold and had to hang up. I tried to call back during another quick break, but again, I was put on hold and couldn’t wait until my call was finally picked up. I was trying to act like nothing was wrong in order to continue the meeting. The last thing I wanted to do was bring up the words “mammogram” and “results” in the same sentance, especially in a meeting where the men outnumbered the women four to one.

The phone calls went back and forth a few times before I finally was able to talk to a real person, and when I finally did connect, the speed with which technician came to the phone was disconcerting. They saw something troubling in the picture of my right breast and wanted me to come in for another look. “It’s very common,” said the technician, “No reason to be concerned; the radiologist just wants to be sure.” This was a Friday. I was to come back the following week.

I fretted over telling my husband, because I was “sure” it was not going to be any big deal, and why worry him needlessly? But, I couldn’t keep it to myself. Over the weekend I blabbed, and it turned out to be a good decision, because he was suddenly very solicitous. I liked that! He was also worried for me in a very hypochondriatic kind of way, which was fine, because as long as I was being annoyed with him for being an overreacting hypochondriac, I didn’t have to be worried myself.

My follow up exam was March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day. It seemed like the right kind of thing to be doing on International Women’s Day. I fully support A Day Without Women, but I was still very grateful that the women who work at the Women’s Health Clinic were not striking that day. I don’t like having my boobs squished by male technicians. I’m so sexist that way.

I wasn’t all that worried when I got there, since I gotten my husband to take care of the worrying for me. That changed in a hurry once they placed me in the examination room. It was not the regular mammogram room I had seen previously and had more of a consultation room feeling than I was prepared for. I also got a different technician this time, but she was very good. She showed me the pictures of my breasts from my exam the prior week and pointed out the worrisome spot we were getting a second look at. I love that they called it an artifact, as if my breasts were some kind of anthropology dig.

I have fibrous breast tissue which makes it harder to get a good look at them. The fibrous structures themselves sometimes show up as artifacts. I didn’t have the presence of mind to snap pictures of my own boobs while we were looking at them, so this photo will have to do:

More of the breast is made of dense glandular and fibrous tissue. This can make it hard to see small tumors in or around the dense tissue.
An example of dense fibrous tissue, as seen on the American Cancer Society website.

For my follow up exam, I had an ultrasound mammogram. After a brief wait in the exam room, I got the results – all clear! It was just a false positive. Due to my fibrous breast tissue, the technician encouraged me to go ahead and get the ultrasound every time, instead of the standard X-ray, so that I would get a better evaluation. Absolutely, I will!

Just to cap off the experience, make the whole experience better, I commented to the technician if she knew it was International Women’s Day. She pulled her lab coat open to show me her red shirt. “That’s why I’m wearing red today,” she said. I smiled all the way home.

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