My first mammogram: What are you waiting for?

Posted on September 2, 2010

When I turned 40, I decided I would have my first mammogram. I’d be proactive. I picked up a brochure, enquired politely at the Breastscreen NSW office how long the current waiting list was (a couple of weeks) and headed home to make the appointment.

When I turned 41, I realised that I’d never made that appointment. I resolved to try harder.

Four months later, Sarah from Ah, The Possibilities wrote a blog post about a friend of a friend who was somewhere around my age and had just been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. She has a three year old and an eight-month-old. Around the same time, Annie at Living Life as Me described her journey as a regular visitor at the Breast Screen Clinic. She has a lump and goes back every year to make sure nothing has changed with it.

I made the appointment.

Three weeks later, this week, I presented myself for my first mammogram. I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that there was squashing of the breast involved. People complained that it hurt. That it was inelegant. Having been through a three-day labour complete with emergency c-section, post-operative complications that involved me walking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame for three months, and a suppository just to get out of the damn hospital, a little breast squashing didn’t sound too scary.

Upon my arrival, I discussed skiing with the front-line lady. She didn’t look like the skiing type. She looked like a woman who liked nothing more than a large G&T and a game of bingo, but looks can be deceiving. She likes skiing at Aspen but prefers the scenery at Banff. Having never skied, nor been to either place, I didn’t have much to add, but I enjoyed listening to her. Her voice was Julia Gillard-flat, but enthusiasm gave it peaks and valleys.

After she ascertained that I was not, in fact, just there for the travelogue, she gave me a form to fill out and told me that I was in ‘really good hands’ that day. Given that every breast check I’d ever had in the past relied on a quality feel up, I was pleased about that.

It was while perusing the form that I had my first reality check. Right at the top, in the disclaimer section, where you have to answer Yes or No to questions about breast implants and medical history is this statement: I understand that this test may not pick up existing cancers. Or words to that effect.

It suddenly occurred to me that this scan might actually reveal a cancer. That I might be that one in 11 women. I considered running. But then thought about Sarah’s friend. It has to be better to know, and know early, right?

I ticked the box, signed the form and handed it back to my Aspen friend.

The mammogram itself was something of an anti-climax. There is a certain amount of woman-handling involved, it’s true. Mind you, I’ve been fitted for a bra by some David Jones Ladies who’ve been unafraid to get in and make sure things fit. My maternity bra fitting, in which my Lady reached inside the G-cup bra she’d decided I needed, pulling my extremely tender pregnancy porno boobs into optimum position, still stands out in my mind as a low point in the history of my breasts.

The mammogram didn’t hurt. Watching my breasts spread out on a plate before me and squished was somewhat disquieting – but mostly because I remember what they were like before breastfeeding diminished their glory. The sideways view, where you have to get your armpit on the machine to get the position right is uncomfortable. But that’s it.

The worst part – I don’t get my results for two weeks. Which seems a long time to wait. Then again, I’m a writer. I’m used to waiting. And this time around, I’m hoping for a rejection letter. “No further tests needed. See you in two years.”

What are you waiting for?

I’m flogging my blog this fine Friday with Lori at RRSAHM – there are lots of great blogs to read over there, go see!


  1. @jencull (jen)

    uh, I turned 40 this month, is this something I should be doing? I honestly didn’t realise and I don’t think they promote mammograms here until you hit 50. Guess I better go find out! Thanks for joining in Blog Gems. Jen

  2. Suzie @nowriggling

    As someone who found a lump that turned out to be the Big C (5 yrs on all OK now thank goodness – hope its forever!) I think this is a great post. But I wish they could find a way to make the whole thing less painful!!

  3. Becca

    Glad to hear it didn’t hurt. I’m still nowhere near 40 – but it will be nice to not dread it for the next many years!

  4. Looking for Blue Sky

    So glad it was good news. I’ve had a few…I now resolve to look at these things as ways of making sure I stay healthy not as a way of finding problems.Over from blog gems x

  5. Susan @ Reading Upside Down

    My mother had a mastectomy last year, so my sisters and I need to have a mammogram + ultrasound just to get a baseline for future reference.

    I’m not scared of the test, I’ve just been so busy that it hasn’t happened yet. I’m off to the GP tomorrow for follow-up on some hinky blood tests. Guess I’ll be asking for a mammogram/ultrasound request form while I’m there.

    Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  6. Laura

    Can’t tell you how important those mammograms are. I’ve had 3 this year & get to go back in December. There is a “spot” they are watching. It is scary.

    (I believe it was a man who invented that horrible machine!)

  7. allison tait

    Thanks for comments everyone – am glad I inspired a few of you to ‘take the squish’. Now just the waiting to be endured. Story of my life!

  8. misssy m

    I need to do this- I’m 41 and have never really thought about it- probably because i still think I’m 23. My older friend (she’s just shy of 60) had a double mastectomy last year. Thanks God she’s cancer free now but I need to face it head on that I’m heading into that age where this shit can really happen.

  9. DanniiBeauty

    Following you from FYBF from RRSAHM! Great post! Its such a important thing for woment to get themselves checked!

  10. lexlocilori

    oh no. I am 41 and have not had one yet. thanks for the reminder!

  11. Jade

    I like to think that after a mammogram (or a smear test) it’s the only time in your life that you really, truly want a rejection letter.

    Thanks for sharing. x

  12. Farmers Wifey

    I had one two years ago and the breast van is in my area this week. I am ringing and making an appointment on Monday….

  13. Tenille

    Well done for going ahead and doing it. My 29 year old cousin has recently had a double mastectomy after discovering an invasive tumour. Breast cancer touches many women, of all ages.

  14. CoffeeJitters (Judy Haley)

    yes! yes! yes! get your mammograms and check your boobies every month. And don’t go thinking you’re too young for breast cancer. I was diagnosed with stage 3 while I was breast feeding. You’re right. It’s absolutely better to know as early as possible.

  15. WA Editor

    What a great article, as a 30 something I think your perspective doesn’t make this test sound so scary.

    As someone with a close friend with advanced breast cancer (before the age of 40), I too can express the need for vigilance. Unfortunately in her case, she was told she was too young to worry so by the time they found out for sure – it had spread.

  16. Gill@OurParklife

    Well done to you….And thanks for the reminder, I am 32 andf have not had a mammogram but this has reminded me that my pap smear is a bit over due….

    Glad to hear that it is not as awful as it sounds….thanks so much for sharing

  17. So Now What?

    Tis true, the one rejection letter you cannot wait to receive.x

  18. WhisperingWriter

    I will have it done when it’s time. I’m a little afraid of getting my boobs squished though.

  19. Maxabella

    Ah, bugger the bloody contentious sister. Now I’m going to have to go and get one done. I’ll wait for your rejection letter though as the stress of waiting for yours and mine will be too, too much for me. Send word. x

  20. Scribbler

    I enjoyed reading your post. Good for you for getting it done! I am much older than you, and I still hate it, but I do it each year because I want to be alive to see what happens next!


  21. AlexandraFunFit

    I’ve been getting mammos for about 15 years now and it never hurts poor ol’ Betty and Veronica! I think they secretly like to escape from my bra every so often. Or maybe they just like getting pancaked. Not sure. Field Trip!

  22. anjwritesabout.com

    I got my first mammo at 35 and I also found the actual procedure pretty anti-climactic. But then again, I refused to look at my boobs squished between the plates…I didn’t want to see just how flat they could get!

  23. Sarah

    I haven’t done this yet either, I’m scared too. I don’t even know when I should or age your supposed to. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Nomie

    It’s great to read and feel reassured that it is not as bad as I’ve been led to believe. Thanks. Here’s hoping for a sparsely worded rejection letter.

  25. Aging Mommy

    Good for you getting one done. Here in the US at 40 you get one every year, or did until they started debating whether or not that was too often. It is not really painful at all. Two weeks though is a long time to have to wait for results, here it is a week or less but I never like opening those letters when they arrive in the mail.

  26. Deer Baby

    Yes thanks for making it seem less scary. I’m 45 and I haven’t had one yet. I’ve had all the other things but not sure why I haven’t had this. Waiting to be called I guess. So now I’ll call them. Thank you for an important post.

    And yes once you’ve gone through the indignities of labour and disposable pants, a little sideways squishing isn’t that bad.

    Hope you get your letter soon.

  27. Tricia Rose

    Thermograms! That’s what I’m waiting for!

    I saw them in Germany (we were filming in a cancer clinic – for some reason we do a LOT of films about cancer). They pick up cancers up to three years before a mammogram can, and they are non-invasive (not only does the squishing hurt, it squishes cancer cells too).

    Downside – radiologists are dead against them because you don’t need to be a radiologist to do a thermogram. For now there are private clinics, and some enlightened hospitals, but it will take a lot to make radiologists give up a (forgive me) – cash cow.

    There is disinformation out there – that thermograms give ‘false positives’ – actually what they do is give early warning, exactly what we want.

  28. 74 Lime Lane

    Great post! I recently had to go {under dr’s orders} to have it done for all the wrong reasons. {so far so good though so no reason to panic just yet}. I’m 36 with a history of breast cancer in the family.
    But, what i really want to say, is to agrees with Allison, it was such an anti-climax. My mission in life ~ to share with women that it hardly hurt a bit! Discomfort yes, pain no. And pain and I aren’t good friends!
    Meanwhile, it is reassuring to have gotten it out of the way. No one wants to be that one in 11.

  29. Seraphim

    Firstly, great you had it done and secondly, thank you for reducing my fear factor about having it as well. Here’s hoping for a terse rejection letter. x

  30. Kath

    Definitely one of those few times when you’re hoping for a rejection letter. All credit to you for being proactive.

  31. brismod

    Well done for writing about it. It certainly takes the fear factor out of the actual test. The fear is in the “what if” waiting, isn’t it? I hope you get a rejection letter too. xx

  32. livinglifeasme

    I’m glad you went and had it done. It is one of those necessary evils – just like Pap Smears. I can’t believe you have to wait 3 weeks. I’ll keep my bits crossed for you that you receive that magic rejection letter. xx

  33. Christie

    Love it: “my extremely tender pregnancy porno boobs”….oh I have been there. Thanks for making the mammogram a little less scary.

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