5 Steps for a Better Mammogram Experience

(Here it is–a patient’s best–and worst–friend, the mammogram machine.)

(And men: “Don’t Be a Boob. Read this“…Why? 1 in 8 of the women you know will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Some men get it too.)

In the past, I’ve waited alone, on wings of breast imaging centers, clutching the flaps of my johnny together (Can’t they call them something else in ‘breast imaging’ centers?), shivering… not so much from the cold as from nervous tension. You see, years ago, I learned via a mammogram: “You have cancer.” Once you’ve heard that, the machinery is never your friend…..even if it saves you.

Eight years and five operations later, I’m cancer-free…for now. Oh, I’m not being melodramatic…It’s just that I never lose sight of fact that the same forces that resulted in cancer could converge again.

I don’t obsess about it; I don’t even greet each day with “I wonder whether it’s back.” I prefer to believe the other time an aberration. After all, cancer is abnormal proliferation of cells…a normal process gone amok. The way I look at it is: “Just because my body went awry once doesn’t mean it’ll continue to do so.”

But such optimism never carries through when it comes time for my MAMMOGRAM. So, I’ve devised some sure-fire measures to take the acid out of the process and I want to share them with you….

(1) Insist (if you qualify) that your mammogram be “diagnostic,” instead of “screening.”- That wording matters. If it’s diagnostic, the radiologist gives you results immediately. Doctors authorize this type if they suspect a problem, and let’s face it: If you’ve had cancer, or there appears to be a questionable area, you probably qualify.” What you don’t need in those situations is “wait time” to hear results.

(2) Bring your absolute best support person with you to your mammogram appointment.. This will be all the more important should you get negative news. We want no hand-wringers here, just reasonable, observant types who remain calm under pressure.

(3) Bring your supporter into the inner wait area (separate from general reception area). If your supporter is male, personnel might attempt to discourage his entry, but insist on his accompaniment (he’s like your birthing coach) . In that instance, they’ll probably assign you to wait in the general radiology wing, instead of the breast imaging wait area where women sit. That’s OK…In my experience, the co-ed section can be fun (as you’ll see).

(4) Initiate conversation with others, using humor whenever possible. At these times, I find willing cohorts who seek ready release from the heavy quiet; they‘re just awaiting a spark (and that could be you). On a recent occasion, I asked if anyone knew where the snacks were and even went so far as to retrieve some in an adjoining waiting area (a basket of packaged crackers and cookies). I offered them around. I went for a blanket, too (remember…chills?), checking to see if anyone else wanted one. I’ve learned to redefine the environment of high-stress medical situations so they‘re more comfortable for me.

(5) Share medical experiences. I’ve learned that in these circumstances, no one (except the medical facility) seems especially concerned with HIPAA (patient privacy rights). We chat about our war wounds and what brought us to this facility.

On one recent occasion, I joked that if a man had even ONE mammogram, he‘d never have another, for no man would tolerate an appendage of his squeezed unmercifully into a giant vise-like machine, reducing its size to a fraction. The room roared.

Taking my cue, one woman said she recently saw a johnny-clad man tear out of the MRI procedure room because he “wasn’t going to stay in that damned tube any longer.” The banging and clanging of the procedure sent him flying, buttocks exposed, grabbing his clothes…running.

Our boisterous laughter brought staff out to comment “You people are having waaayyy too much fun here. We‘ve never seen a group like you.”

In the end, it boils down to this: I can sit in stark terror, as I await a test that ripped my life apart in the past or I can share stories with a group of strangers (soon to become friends). I always opt for the latter.

As I said in my post “Humor in the Cancer Ward”: “We’re all in this human stew, trying to get on with life ….any way we can.” I encourage you to use these tips to take this dread situation and make it more bearable.

If you have others suggestions, too, please share at “Leave a Comment” or “Comments” below…Your e-mail address is never given out–Promise.

***“Humor on the Cancer Ward” will appear tomorrow in CNN and NYTimes–acclaimed kevinMD.com. Biddy wishes to thank the professional folks at the Asheville Imaging Center, Biltmore Ave., Asheville, NC, for their caring approach to patients (they set out crackers, cookies, and blankets–and I’d never found that anywhere before.) The place is beautifully- appointed with wood wainscoting, leather armchairs, and lots of windows, in the general reception areas. Finally, my technician was especially kind, mindful of my traumatic past; she reassured me throughout the process. The overall effect was one of optimism and professionalism, traits important to those of us facing frightening medical procedures.

Please send this post to all the women and men you know, as well as the imaging centers you do business with.


And if you missed Biddy Bytes post “Humor on the Cancer Ward,” on October 15, 2010, click on the following link:


About admin

A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog, kevinMD.com, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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