5 Important Things to Know Before Your Mammogram
From requesting your records to knowing what to ask for if your breast are dense, there are 5 important things to know before your mammogram.
My “Area of Concern”
Not too many people know this but . . . I had a little scare last year. An “area of concern” was found on one of my breast. At least that’s the words I think they used. Not really too sure because after receiving “the letter” everything became quite a blur.
Wow, so many questions filled my head. . .
What do I do next? What does all of this mean? Could this be a false alarm? And, do I have cancer? Because, I’m too young for this and I’m not prepared for this. And even more selfishly (for a second), I thought “why me?”
I Just Couldn’t
The instructions on the letter were simple, call the breast imaging center to make an appointment for a follow-up mammogram. . . but I never called.
The breast imaging center called multiple times to set up a follow up mammogram. I never answered.
The breast imaging center left serval voicemails. I didn’t return any of them.
The breast imaging center sent a few letters. I tossed all of them. The letters found a home in the abysmal “I’ll get to it later (but never will)” pile.
Quite honestly, I hid.
I told myself that I was waaaaaaay “too busy” to go back for a second mammogram because it simply didn’t fit into my schedule. I had soooooooo much to do, than check on my health.
Truth is, I was scared. And to put it mildly, I was freaked the f*ck out!
And on top of it, I just didn’t have the emotional capital to deal with this situation. I was spent.
Well, F*ck Cancer
In recent months, cancer had drained my emotional bank account. Outside I looked ok, but inside I was a hot smoking mess. By January, colon cancer had taken Chameka “Meek” Scott. She was 33. In April, Leukemia (cancer) had circled back to claim my Aunt. And throughout all of this, metastatic breast cancer had taken up permeant residence in one of my best friends and sorority sister, Sherroll (aka Ms. Travel with Pink Purpose). And now, here we were in May, invited back for round 2 of a mammogram. No thanks.
All in all, I am happy to report that in the end, everything turned out ok. But I did learn a valuable lesson in that there are definitely things to know before your next mammogram.
And because sharing is caring, here’s exactly what I learned . . .
5 Important Things to Know Before Your Mammogram
1. Are Your Breast Dense?
I know, I know, we just met each other. Such a forward question for our first encounter.
The question of, “do you have dense breast?” is super valid and legit. I promise, I’m going some where with this. Just stick with me.
Now, when we say “dense”, we are referring to your breast tissue. Per the Mayo Clinic: “Breast tissue is composed of milk glands, milk ducts and supportive tissue (dense breast tissue), and fatty tissue (non-dense breast tissue).”
Think about this way: when we are young, our boobs are dense (aka. perky and thick). And as we get older, our boobs become less dense and tend to make a run for the nearest southern border.
***Oh mother nature, you are truly are the gift that keeps on giving.***
Anyway, dense breast tissue is pretty common; however, it’s much much harder to image and read. During a mammogram, areas of concern look gray or white in color. And you guessed it, dense breast tissue mimics this same gray/white color scheme as well. So naturally, it makes it difficult for the physician to distinguish which breast tissue is good or bad.
What You Should Do: Find out if your breast tissue is dense by speaking with you physician. And if your breast are dense, don’t be afraid to request 3D mammography imaging going forward in lieu of a traditional mammogram. In fact, 3D Imaging is more common these days (meaning insurance companies are likely to pay for some, if not all of it) and it’s becoming part of the standard training curriculum for new doctors.
2. Keep it in the Family
With insurance plans changing and the overall general landscape of medical care in the United States continually shifting, it can be soooooooo incredibly challenging to keep returning back to the same medical facility or hospital system who has conducted your previous mammogram(s).
Full disclosure, I honestly didn’t think it mattered. As long as my insurance company “approved” for me to get a mammogram, I thought it was all good. I mean I’m compliant in getting checked once/year. That’s how it works, right?
What You Should Do: Try to go to one place, facility or hospital system only for ALL of your breast imaging. I know it can be hard due to this thing we call “life” (moving to a new area, change of insurance, change of job status and etc), but try to make a consorted effort to do so. Because in the event there’s an abnormality detected, your doctors will be able to easily review and compare all your records and mammograms.
3. Come Prepared. Don’t Just Wing It (Like I Did)
I’ll be the first to say, “don’t do as I did.” DO NOT (I repeat) DO NOT just show up to your mammogram or (even worse) a follow up mammogram + ultrasound without having your previous records sent over ahead of time to the physician or facility.
Well, I just showed up for my 2nd mammogram and ultrasound the doctor all but refused to see me. Yup, that’s right. He was not having it. No ma’am. Not today. That is, until I procured the imaging and notes of my previous mammogram. UGH! And lemme tell you, tracking down the previous records from a different hospital system was a pain in the ass! Lots of calling around through automated switchboards only to be disconnected after endless department transfers. Then, I signed and faxed multiple documents (BTW: Seriously, who the hell still faxes? The 90’s called and they want their floppy disks and their dial up internet back). After all of that, they never made it. Uggggggggh! So, Melissa had to personally walk into each previous facility and request to speak to the manager to expedite my records.
Looking back now, thug shrugging the act of having my records sent over, really wasn’t one of my finer moments in time. You live and (luckily) you learn.
What Should You Do: Take the time to track down your previous records and have them sent over prior to any mammogram appointment. The doctor really needs to read your past records. Maybe you have an area in your breast that looks concerning BUT in all actuality, it may be something that’s totally normal to you and your body. But how would the doctor know this without your previous records? Some doctors can be pretty awesome but a mind reader they are not. So give them your records and save yourself the time, the trip and emotional rollercoaster of (possibly) being called back for additional studies.
4. Got Places to Go? Stick Around Awhile
Have a seat. Have a Snickers. Enjoy a cup of the complimentary coffee. But whatever you do, DO NOT LEAVE without your mammogram records and a copy of your CD imaging.
Did you know that you are entitled to your mammogram records and imaging on a CD? (shakes head “no”)
Well, me either. I had absolutely no idea. And, I was flabbergasted when my nurse schooled me on this. Thank God she did because I had never been offered them so I didn’t know to ask for them either.
What You Should Do: As a patient, you a right to your records. During your appointment, find out exactly when your records and CD imaging will be available for you to take home. And if they are available after your appointment, stick around and wait to collect them. Listen, it may be a pain in the ass to spend a little extra time waiting but trust me, you’ll be thankful you did. Because no one’s got time to track down previous records every year. No one!
5. Ask ALL the Questions Until You Understand
This by far, in my opinion, is THE BEST piece of advice I was given.
I think, as females, we are taught at a young age not to ask too many questions for fear of being seen as rude or impolite. And I also think that it becomes even more taboo when you (gasp) have the nerve to question a doctor. So we just sit there, listen to the results and leave the office confused with more questions than we had before we came in.
Lemme ask you,
What good are test results and answers if you can’t understand them?
What You Should Do: Listen, you ain’t gots to be scared girl! Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions to enhance your level of understanding of what’s happening with your body. Now take a deep breath, be confident, then fire away and ask ALL those questions.
And if you still are not picking up what the doctor is putting down. . . That’s ok. There’s a lot of information to digest in a very condensed period of time. Don’t be afraid to whip out your phone and take notes (because I know I will in a heartbeat). And don’t be scared to ask them to go slow or repeat themselves if need be. Remember: ultimately, you are the best advocate for yourself. You have a right (as a patient and a beautiful human being on this earth) to understand what’s going on with your body. And if the doctor is annoyed by you asking too many questions about your body and your health, then may be they aren’t the right doctor for you. #Boom #TheTruth #ThankyouNext
Fear of the unknown is never a good thing. And who would’ve thought that just scheduling and showing up to your mammogram wasn’t enough. I truly thank God for the wonderful nurse and Sherroll who both calmed my nerves and who graciously educated me on these important things to know before your next mammogram that I’ve shared.
Remember: Knowledge is power and power is confidence.
Now go out there and get those mammograms.
Thanks so much for stopping by and reading “5 Important Things to Know Before Your Next Mammogram”.
Feel free to leave comments below with any questions or share your own experience (I’d love to hear). Or just to say “hi”. I promise I don’t bite (as long as I’m properly fed).
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-XOXO (as always)
Photography & Editing by: Yours Truly, Melissa Drake