When Your Mammogram Is Abnormal


I’m not one to think the worst or to worry to excess. Oh wait, yes I am. So the call that my recent mammogram was abnormal really scared me.

My doctor made the call herself to assure me that this kind of thing is very common. A shadow, an obstructed or blurred view, anything out of the norm, and they follow up. Caution is a good thing. I know this, but the timing couldn’t have been worse—just two days after our family lost a very special person to breast cancer.

I tried not to worry myself sick and for the most part, I did okay. There’s a lot to be said for deep breathing and positive thoughts and losing yourself in tedious tasks. My aunt, even when facing the most stressful and scary circumstance imaginable, always tried to live in the moment. She taught me (and so many others) lessons about being positive and present before “mindfulness” became a buzzword. 

My appointment was scheduled for the day of my aunt’s Celebration of Life. Oddly ironic and terribly sad. Thankfully I was able to get on a cancellation list and got an appointment a week earlier.

I teared up as the tech prepped me for my repeat mammogram. When I told her about my aunt she shared that she had recently lost an aunt to breast cancer too. She put her hand over mine and assured me that I’d have the results before I left that day. I was relieved—I didn’t want to spend another moment waiting and imagining. 

Mammograms: What You Need To Know

The next step was an ultrasound after which the tech left me on the table to wait while she consulted with the radiologist. There was no point in getting dressed, she told me, in case they needed more pictures.

So there I lay, face hot and palms sweaty despite the chill of the ultrasound gel on my chest. After about twenty minutes I’d had enough. I wiped myself clean and tied my gown. Then I took a close look at my ultrasound. The last few pictures were still on the screen. And of course I took a phote because… blogger. 

The white dotted markers made it simple to spot. A cyst. At first I was shocked there was actually something there. I’d had myself convinced the re-test was due to a poor photo, but there it was.

I knew it was a cyst because it was completely black and had a smooth, rounded border. My daughter has a brain cyst and “Dr. Google” has provided me with enough images to understand what I was seeing.

“A cyst in the breast, which feels and looks like a lump, is actually a sac filled with fluid. Cysts occur most often in women in their 30s and 40s and usually go away after menopause. However, the exact cause of cysts is not yet known. Cysts rarely turn into breast cancer, and having cysts does not necessarily increase your risk of getting breast cancer.” source

The tech finally returned to tell me I was free to go. “But what about my results?” I asked in a panic. She told me I’d have to wait to hear from my doctor. Well, I may have wigged out just enough to have her stick her head out into the hallway to halt a passing doctor. “This lady was told she could have her results,” she told him. The doctor looked at me and said, “Looks good. You’re fine.”

He didn’t mention the cyst. I get it. That news was best coming directly from my doctor who would have the time to explain if I had questions.

In the change room instead of feeling relieved elation, I felt an angry sadness. I sat on the floor and cried and used my gown to wipe my tears. How lucky I was—thoughts of my children losing their mother and the other frightening images I conjured up while I waited for these results were quieted. I got the result that so many women, my aunt included, deserved but didn’t get.

*Addendum: This post was written last year. Due to my age and a family history of breast cancer, I have a  mammogram repeated every year. I had my 2016 test this week. Yesterday I got the call that the results were abnormal. Again. When you have dense breasts (a lot of us do) a call-back is more likely. Also if you happen to be prone to cysts which apparently I am, abnormal results are more common. So I’m dense and cysty. Sounds like a vaudeville act doesn’t it? So now I wait for the repeat test and try to not to worry. If you haven’t had a mammogram yet, make an appointment. Though the false positives and the worry are well, worrying, early detection can make all the difference. 

**Addendum to the addendum: Today (2019) I had the first mammogram in years that was “just a routine exam” and not due to a call back. I felt as relaxed as you can be during one of tests (despite the extra painful squash…thanks PMS), relieved. As I changed back into my clothes, I heard a woman in the stall next to me quietly crying. I stood paralyzed, wanting to say something, but instead giving her space and privacy, feeling gutted. 

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