Mammograms: Always on trial

You’d think I’d be used to it by now. That I wouldn’t feel a need to write about it after all this time. But this isn’t the case. And I am not too sure it’s any other survivor’s case either.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, getting mammograms become an anxiety-inducing event. It doesn’t matter how many “clear” results you’ve received post-diagnosis. You start to worry days before your scheduled appointment. For me, it’s more than just the fear of experiencing a cancer recurrence.

Approaching every mammogram at my hospital feels like preparing for “Judgment Day.” First, I schedule my mammograms for a time when I think they won’t interfere with me psychologically. Some patients want to postpone this test until after they’ve had their vacation or celebrations. Me? I want to get a “clear” prior to even trying to enjoy myself, otherwise, I spend my whole holiday stressing about it.

At least I have some control over the timing. But once I show up to my appt, I no longer can control anything. It’s the way this procedure is conducted at my hospital that distresses me.

You get to the reception desk and provide them with your name and date of birth. You’re then asked to sit in the waiting room with other women who are also waiting to be examined. First, I need to get undressed from the waist up and wear a hospital gown. I follow the instructions. I sit with the other patients who look just as nervous as I do but are trying very hard to make the situation feel casual. No one initiates a conversation. We all act as if we were at a regular clinic waiting to be called for our yearly check-up. Some of us grab magazines to read while others just stare into space. From time to time, I take a peek to see if anyone else is as young as I am. And almost every time everyone is much older than I. A thought runs through my head: “couldn’t I have enjoyed my youth before having to deal with this shit?”

There are several mammogram technicians who frequently come out to call on different patients. Once I hear my name being called, my heart beat accelerates, as I am aware of what they’ll be looking for and what I don’t want them to find.

I go into the mammogram room with the technician and get asked questions about symptoms and family cancer history. All over again. I’m then asked to remove the gown to start the “pancake” procedure. My breasts get flatten by the compressor plate which allows for accurate imagery. Several pictures are taken. I start to wonder if all this radiation is activating the bad cells, which can happen due to my ATM gene. It is a very uncomfortable test. But to me this isn’t the worst part. The worst part is the wait and how each group of women is kept in a waiting room, then moved to another room, and then moved to another room, depending on what the doctors see. It feels as if we’re waiting for a verdict, except there is no one to defend us. And if we are lucky, we get to go free that same day.

After I am done with the mammogram, I’m asked to go to a room where all the patients anxiously wait to hear their verdict. This is the time when I exceed the number of texts on my phone plan and sit restlessly. Often, a TV is on, broadcasting bad news about the world, making the aggravating atmosphere even worse.

I eventually hear nurses call each patient to inform them about their results. After the interaction between the nurse and the patient, you either see the patient leave or go into yet another room for a different type of scan. This usually means they’ve found “something” suspicious and they need to further investigate. And this is the worst part for me. Seeing how the patient, very slowly and with a look of concern, follows the nurse to the other room. Despite their fears, they proceed anyway. It is devastating to just watch. I also can’t help but think I might be next. After all, although we’ve been through our treatments, we’re never really done. We are not cured.

Finally I hear my name called. I follow the nurse who conveniently stands between the exit door and the sonogram rooms – where patients need to go after something suspicious is found. I get clear results (at least, I have so far). I am handed the paper stating those results and my recommended next appointment date. I take a deep breath and thank the nurse for delivering the good news. I immediately head into the bathroom. I stare at myself in the mirror for some time, still in disbelief of why I am there in the first place. I think about the other patients. I always do. Especially, I think about those who have passed from my family. From my support circle. I cry and I feel both grateful and guilty for getting another “free pass”. I get dressed and go back into the world where I am expected to act as if I am completely done and shouldn’t worry anymore. But I still worry. And despite my fears, I continue to live my life anyway. Until the next verdict.

About thesmallc

I'm Rebeca. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. But there's more to my story: I am an animal lover. I love to cook. I have a wonderful fiancé who doesn't mind walking my rocky path with me. We currently live in New York. ---------------------------------------- “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
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16 Responses to Mammograms: Always on trial

  1. Pingback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  2. Kay Crecelius says:

    I’m 20+ years out and still am paranoid every time I go in for my annual mammogram. Once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient. You’re perfectly normal.

    • thesmallc says:

      Congratulations being 20+ years out! That’s so encouraging. And you’re so right, once we go through cancer, the worry is always there, to some degree. We’re never completely done. You stay well. Thank you for stopping by. xo

  3. Kimberly says:

    Yep, I am usually one hot mess about mammograms. And sometimes even cry during it. The PTSD from being diagnosed is very real. Especially on mammo day. Great post!

    • thesmallc says:

      Yes! Emotions come out during these tests, making me question my decision about surgery. I also get MRIs every year so there is a scan for me every six months (MRI coming up for me soon!). I dislike both experiences. I hope scanxiety is the only thing we ever have to worry about. xo

  4. nancyspoint says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    It is unnerving, isn’t it? Mammogram day is a sort of judgment day and after your diagnosis, it must feel even more so. That courtroom analogy of yours seems quite fitting. I no longer need mammograms. This is my new strange but true reality. I’m sure glad to hear yours turned out okay. Thanks for this descriptive post. xo

    • thesmallc says:

      Thank you, Nancy. To be honest, it is tempting to get a mastectomy because I no longer want to go through these tests. But I believe I will still need an MRI. No matter what route we take, there’s always some level of concern and some appts to go to. You stay well, friend. xo

  5. Jennifer says:

    Wow, mammograms are bad enough, but that process sounds excruciating! I’m so sorry that’s how it has to be–as if you needed any added stress!

    • thesmallc says:

      Jennifer, the only thing I appreciate is getting the results the same day because I hate the wait. This is a cancer hospital so they handle their processes accordingly. We all know what we’re there for and that sort of makes it feel creepy. I only hope our results are accurate and always good. xo

  6. There has GOT to be a better way! I wonder, maybe no matter how “nice” they try to make the process, it will always be unnerving (where I get my imaging–they have HGTV on, stressful in a different way…).

    • thesmallc says:

      I’ve been thinking of different ways they can do it and I can’t come up with one that is less stressful. For instance, if they send us home after the test, then there’s the wait which I hate even more. I like getting the results right away but it’s the dramatic scenes I don’t appreciate. Maybe each doctor should call us individually into their office for results. Sorry you’re in a similar mess too. xo

  7. When I read, “Couldn’t I have enjoyed my youth…” it broke my heart. So many like yourself getting diagnosed way too young. I wish things were different. xoxoxo

    • thesmallc says:

      Hi Eileen! Yes, too many. No age is appropriate for this mess of course, but it sure sucks to be dealing with it at a young age.We do our best. Hope you’re well and enjoying the new change. xoxo

  8. Beth Gainer says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    This is an amazing post that captures so effectively what it’s like to be awaiting one’s fate at the mammography place. I had to deal with this as well, and it’s horrific. Now that my breasts have been amputated and reconstructed, I am exempt from mammograms. But I still don’t rest easy.

    There is no easy way to deal with mammograms — especially after one’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. Take care. xoxo

    • thesmallc says:

      Beth, I believe no matter what we do, we never fully relax. There’s always some level of worry, especially when we experience symptoms, which is part of being human (except our thoughts never go there). After having the lumpectomy I thought that maybe I should have removed my breasts so I could avoid additional tests, but apparently it would make no difference in my case. I would still need MRIs, which BTW I am getting next week. I hope all is well with you, dear friend. xoxo

  9. carol says:

    I guess I am different because I look forward to my mammogram. If there is something there I want to know as soon as possible. I was on a six month schedule and that is why my 9mm tumor was found early and did not need chemo or mastectomy. Now my MO has be 1 time a year and that is what make me nervous. The waiting so long to find out if something is there.

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