If you’re not keen on Too.Much.Information, you might prefer to avoid this post. I want to share my experience here, given that I was so scared about this, and as it turns out, unnecessarily so.
Now that I’m 45, I’m eligible for the free breast screening programme here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and my doctor’s practice nurse has been
hassling reminding me politely that I should make an appointment and get one done. I finally did it, last Friday. I was very nervous about it, because the prospect of having my breasts squished between sheets of cold glass wasn’t all that appealing. As in, holy f-ck, get me out of here!
It wasn’t all that bad.
Once I made the appointment, the clinic sent me a letter explaining the process, and giving me details about where to go and where to park. Very helpful, given that it’s a stressful and scary experience, first time round. They included accessibility information: all the clinics in New Zealand have been designed to be wheelchair accessible. When I got there, I found that there was plenty of reserved parking, and car parks for people using disability stickers were right beside the door.
Once I got through the sign in and greet and wait (just 5 minutes), the radiographer who was taking my shots came and collected me, took me through to the changing room, explained that once I had taken my bra off, I could use the gown they supplied, or just put my own shirt on and slip it off once they were right ready to take the shots. She took me into the x-ray room and talked me through the process, and checked carefully about the scars I have from having had a couple of benign lumps taken out about twenty years ago.
So far so good. But the next part was what I had been dreading. The radiographer lined me up against the machine. She positioned the height very carefully, and helped me to position my breast on the plates for the first, horizontal squish. Then came the squish.
It wasn’t too bad at all. It was uncomfortable, and uncomfortable to the point of painful, but not painful to the point of crying out, or even gasping. The sensation was one of heavy pressure, and the tightest, heaviest pressure lasted only for a couple of seconds. I found I could cope very easily with it.
The horizontal squish was repeated on my other breast, and then the radiographer changed the angle of the plates so that she could take a vertical shot. The aim of this shot was to get as much of my pectoral muscle in as possible, and it took a bit of work to get the machine at the right angle. More squishing pressure, and then a repeat with my other breast. After that it was back to the changing room, to wait while the radiographer checked the quality of the pictures. She called me back in for a repeat horizontal shot on one breast, and while I didn’t exactly bound in with glee, I certainly wasn’t at all afraid of having another shot done. Then I was free to go.
The results will be through in a couple of weeks. The odds of me having breast cancer are small, as they are for any woman, but if they do detect one, then the chances that I will survive are much better. I’m very glad to be able to have this screening test, just as I am glad to be able to have smear tests. Not very much fun, at all, but worth it.
For all my fear, it didn’t hurt very much. I did time the test for the pre-ovulation stage of my menstrual cycle, because my breasts are always tender post-ovulation, and had my period not arrived the day before the test, I would have rescheduled it. I commented to the radiographer that this was one time when being a small-breasted woman was a bonus. She replied that it didn’t seem to make a difference, ‘though I would be keen to hear what larger breasted women say about that.
Update: I got an ‘all clear’ letter today. The letter is excellent; it says that there is ‘no evidence of breast cancer’ in upper case and bold, and it reminds me that screening isn’t perfect, so I need to see my doctor if I notice any changes in my breasts.