I turned 40 at the beginning of this year, and for most women, that means it’s time for their first mammogram. (Yep, this post is a little different than what I usually write about. Please bear with me.) I had my annual ob/gyn check-up in December, about a month before my 40th birthday. At that appointment, my doctor gave me a referral for my mammogram, and sent me on my way. I waited until I was on summer break from my job, and scheduled an appointment for late last month.
I had heard a range of reactions to mammograms. Some women had described it as no big deal, and some had described it as “painful” or “excruciating”. I don’t have a very high threshold for pain – my husband does an annoying impression of me
asking begging for an epidural the moment I was declared 3 cm dilated – so I was a little concerned. Also, as someone who’s not wild about disrobing in front of others, I was anxious about the whole, er, process of how a mammogram goes down. Suffice it to say, I really only thought about what the mammogram itself would be like, not what it might show. I’m only 40, after all, and I don’t have any family history of breast cancer.
After my “pictures” were taken – they actually called them that, as if I was having head-shots taken – the nurse told me that I would hear from them in 7-10 days, and that it’s pretty common for first-timers to be called back for more “pictures”, since the radiologists don’t have a baseline to compare them to. “Great, see you in a year,” I thought.
Three days later, I received a call from the radiology department at the hospital where I had my mammogram. I need to return for additional imaging. This will definitely entail another mammogram, and possibly an ultrasound, as well. The next available appointment? IN FOUR WEEKS!!! What’s a hypochondriac to do? Take the appointment, hang up the phone, and sob. (First I
commented snapped to the poor guy who called me, “Great! Now I only have to freak out for a month!”)
After a brief sob-fest, I calmed down and went about my business. A couple of days later, a letter arrived from the hospital. It went into a bit more detail than the guy on the phone did, including informing me that I have dense breasts. You can read more about what this means here, but basically dense breasts contain less fatty tissue, and more fibrous tissue. (I know this isn’t a joking matter, but I can’t help but wonder why this has to be the ONE part of my body with insufficient fatty tissue. Rear end, thighs, hips?? Nope, plenty of fatty tissue there!)
It’s more difficult to identify tumors on mammograms when one has dense breasts, so additional imaging is pretty common. Not great news, but what sent my heart dropping to my shoes was the line about women with dense breasts being at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. What felt like only a minute ago, I was strolling in for my first mammogram, wondering if I’d be in the “not-a-big-deal” camp, or the “excruciating” camp. Now I need another mammogram and possibly an ultrasound, and I’m at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. For an anxious gal, with serious hypochondriac tendencies, this was horrible news.
Coping by Sharing
I (obviously!) like to share. Maybe it’s good, old misery-loves-company, but I’ve told countless women about my dense breasts. To my relief, almost everyone has either known someone with the same “condition”, or has it themselves. And while it may just be lucky sampling, none of them have had breast cancer. Since my anxious mind tends to get carried away and start imaging the worst, it’s been very helpful to normalize my experience in this way.
Do you know anyone who’s had a similar experience? Are you a hypochondriac, too?