Why I waited 7 years for a mammogram

The Serenity Corner
April 28, 2016

Dreading the annual Mammogram

Like so many women, I had come to completely dread my annual Mammogram. The dread I felt wasn’t due to the mild discomfort of breast compression during the procedure. This was perfectly bearable. It was everything else about the mammogram experience that made me put off scheduling the appointment.

It started in the crowded waiting room of the imaging facility, with the blaring TVs, and impersonal, efficient, twenty-something you women at the front desk, whose eyes never left their computer screens. To them, I was only another appointment to be processed as quickly as possible.

The experience became even more dreadful as I was escorted to the changing area, which was decorated with multiple, large posters. There were picture of the female breast anatomy in differing views, fully illustrated with various types of breast cancer for my viewing pleasure, with and without lymph node metastasis. Inflammatory breast cancer was particularly well represented, staring ominously at me from the wall, like a red monster. Other posters featured sappy, syrupy breast cancer poetry, and kittens or teddy bears wearing pink ribbons. I was also encouraged to palpitate cancerous rubber breast model, which in no way approximated human mammary tissue. It was provided to test my skills at tumor detection.

Frustrating wait times

The mammogram itself took place in a freezing cold room, with a technician who was all business. She was brisk and competent as she hurried through her work, not saying much. She seemed exasperated that I wasn’t quite tall enough to reach the machine in its pre-set position. After the mammogram, I was left to another waiting room, where I was surrounded by about ten other women also dressed in Pepto-Bismol pink gowns. And here we all waited. We waited for our name to be called. We waited for a very long time. It was sort of like Judgment Day, waiting for an invisible Radiologist who held our lives in her or his hands.

By this time, after seeing all of the posters and books, and examining the cancerous breast, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that we were all going to get breast cancer. We just waited to find out if we were to be granted a reprieve for this year, or if the monster had caught up with us. When some women’s names were called, they disappeared down a long hallway into uncertainty and, one presumed, cancer. I flipped absently through a seven year old copy of “Field and Stream,” and silently prayed that this would not be my fate.

When my name was finally called, I, like most of the women in the room, was directed to the exit door. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had escaped, and I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough.

It would be seven years before I could bring myself to have another mammogram. This time, I went to Solis Imaging. For several years now, I have advised my women patients to choose Solis for their mammograms, largely because of the quality of the Radiologists at Solis, and my confidence in them. This would be my first time to experience Solis Imaging as a patient.

I approached my appointment with trepidation, anticipating that I would endure an entire afternoon of unpleasantness. I needn’t have worried. I had an entirely wonderful experience at Solis. I didn’t tell anyone that I ordered mammograms at Solis for other patients. I wanted to be treated just like anyone else. The waiting room was comfortable, and I could hang up my clothes. There was attractive artwork on the walls. The Mammogram Technician was friendly and kind. She went out of her way to make me feel comfortable, and she told me everything she was doing, and how long each view would take. She always made sure that I was feeling okay. I elected to have the 3D views, and this added very little time to the procedure, which was not at all uncomfortable. When everything was completed, my mammogram was completed on my lunch hour. It didn’t take half a day! I was amazed.

Focus on health, not cancer

The difference at Solis was more than just courtesy, comfort, and timeliness. The most important thing about the mammogram experience at Solis is the perception of the screening mammogram as a routine part of healthy living for women. The focus is on health, and not on cancer. The color pink is conspicuously absent, and this is in my opinion, a very good thing. There are no references to cancer anywhere. No sappy posters. No scary pictures. When they come to Solis, women find an emphasis on reassurance, not fear. Fear has never been shown to be a good motivating force for behavioral choices, and I don’t think it motivates women to choose to have a screening mammogram.

I delayed my screening mammogram for seven years. This was not due to lack of insurance, or even lack of time. The honest truth is that my prior mammograms were always about fear, cancer, and death. Deep down, I just didn’t want to face these awful experiences again.

After delaying my mammogram for so long, I had resigned myself to that fact that I might need additional views, or even a biopsy. I was prepared. Imagine my surprise, when my favorite Solis Radiologist called me the next day, just to tell me that my mammogram was all normal! I thanked her and told her I would never wait years between mammograms again. I would see her at Solis next year, right on schedule!

Blessings!

Authored by:

JeanAnn Schwark
M.S., F.N.P.-C.