You never forget your first time: getting a mammogram

By Cassie Smith

When I called the radiology center listed on my mammogram order first-thing one Monday morning, I expected to be put on hold, allowing me time to take a few sips of coffee. (With a 9-month-old, I cherish the days I can drink my coffee when it’s still hot!) But lo and behold, an actual person picked up the phone, ready to set up my appointment. Not only that, but she also offered me an appointment within the next two weeks, and at a time convenient to me.

Boom. Appointment made and my coffee was still warm.

I recently celebrated my 36th birthday (shhh…), so my first mammogram happened a bit earlier than it may for you (For women of average risk, the Prevent Cancer Foundation supports the recommendation to begin annual mammograms at age 40; if you have a family history, talk to your health care provider about starting sooner). My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 40s, so my doctor recommended I schedule my first mammogram once I was no longer breastfeeding my daughter. I brought this up at my annual check-up this summer, and the doctor promptly gave me an order for a 3D mammogram. Thanks to my job at the Prevent Cancer Foundation, I knew a 3D mammogram could provide a more comprehensive look at my breasts compared to a 2D mammogram, so I was grateful my doctor recommended this.

When I made my appointment, the receptionist shared a few helpful tips—don’t wear deodorant, lotion or perfume the day of your appointment and wear a two-piece outfit—and I also read through my colleague’s blog on what to expect when getting your mammogram. The day of my appointment, I felt as prepared as I could be, which eased some of the nervousness I typically get ahead of any medical appointment.

I checked in with the receptionist and joined the others in the waiting room. Before I knew it, I was taken back to a dressing room and instructed by the radiology technician to undress my top half and put on a robe. At this point, I imagine I’m getting ready for a spa day, which helped me relax a bit.

I snapped a couple of quick selfies in the privacy of the dressing room to share on social media and met the technician on the other side of the curtain. She offered me a hair tie to pull back my hair so it didn’t get tugged by the machine—a tip I can add to my coworker’s and the radiology office’s recommendations.

The word I hear most often when people describe a mammogram is “uncomfortable.” It was not painful to me (although it can be for some), but you are asked to stand in some interesting positions. I’d say it’s like the most awkward photo shoot you’ll probably ever do, right down to the instructions from the mammographer.

“Tilt your head this way.”

“Place your arm here.”

“Turn your feet toward the corner.”

“Say cheese.”

Okay, she didn’t say that last one, but you get what I mean.

The whole process took less than 15 minutes, and like many women, I left the appointment feeling empowered. Of course, I didn’t have my results yet, but just knowing that I had taken action for my health helped me breathe a little bit of relief.

Have you had your mammogram? To learn what routine cancer screenings you may need, check out the Prevent Cancer Foundation website. And don’t forget—the powerful stories we share can encourage others to take charge of their health! Share your first time on social media and tag @preventcancer with #MyFirstTime.

A few days later, I received an email that my results were negative with a note from my doctor that I should plan to schedule another mammogram next year.