What You Should Know Before Your First Mammogram

I walked in Toronto’s “Weekend To End Women’s Cancers” and met so many people touched by breast cancer. Too many. Concerned for my own health, I asked my doctor if I should have a mammogram. She explained that Canadian women are advised to be screened at the age of fifty, unless there is a history of breast cancer in the family, in which case the recommended age in forty.

I asked if I should wait until fifty? She told me it was up to me. Then I asked the question I ask all doctors… “What would you tell your daughter?” 

She said, “I would tell her to do it. Now.” She explained that breast cancer affects women (and men) of all ages, but it’s aggressive and develops quickly in younger women. By the time it’s detected, it may be too late.

I made my appointment.  

Mammograms can be scary. Especially your first. I tried to make the idea less daunting by pronouncing “mammogram” like you would if you were announcing a candygram (like in the old SNL shark candygram skit). It helped. But only a little.

Sporting a tie-in-the-back gown, a friendly female technician showed me into a dimly lit exam room. She asked me some medical questions, explained the procedure, and we went to it. It took less than five minutes. 

This photo might lead you to think that I was about to stick my finger in the machine. But alas, it was not my finger that would be sandwiched between two plates like a ham on rye.


The technician laughed when I asked her to take my photo (I assured her it would be a tasteful shot—robe on!).

So here’s the lowdown (Yes, there’s a joke to be made regarding the relationship between breasts and gravity).

Is it embarrassing? The procedure is so technical and quick, it’s really not. I was more concerned with covering the belly fat spilling out over my jeans, than my exposed upper bits. Tip: Wear high waisted yoga pants, not tight low rise jeans if you care about that at all. 

* Is it painful? If you don’t make your appointment during the week before your period (consult a calendar before you book!), I’d say it’s uncomfortable, but not particularly painful.

What if you can’t effectively read a calendar and you are PMSy and sore the day of? Definitely take a pain reliever before you go.

What if the doctor phones you to discuss the results? Do NOT freak out. Usually those calls are to say they didn’t get a “good picture” and you’ll need a redo. And sometimes they find a harmless cyst that they will confirm via a follow-up ultrasound.

What if you don’t hear anything? They say “no news is good news” but some (me) say, “no news is most likely good news but, it could also mean lost results or somebody dropped the ball news.” So follow up with your family doctor just to be sure.

I love you. Get mammogrammed.  

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