- During my mammogram two years ago I almost passed out from discomfort.
- I'm not one to make a fuss about things, so I kept quiet, but my body spoke up.
- Now I know to ask for a MammoPad to be comfortable during my yearly exam.
I don't enjoy having my breasts flattened on plates like schnitzel, but I'd never had reason to complain about my mammograms. As a people-pleaser, I'm not one to make a fuss anyway. At my mammogram two years ago, however, my mouth couldn't find the words to speak up, but my body told my truth.
The imaging-center technician was pleasant and professional. She got to work, stretching my breast like Play-Doh into the machine, pulling me in practically up to my armpits. It already hurt like hell. Then she winched the vise, inch by inch. "Just a little more," she said. "Are you OK?"
I nodded, my eyes squeezed shut, and my teeth clenched. But with the final compression on the second breast, I couldn't breathe. I felt my blood pressure drop, my knees go weak, and I broke out in a cold sweat. I knew it was vasovagal syncope — the body's reaction to triggers like pain, the sight of blood, or emotional distress — because I'd had it before. And I knew I might soon pass out.
I thought she had been too rough
"I don't feel so good," I whispered.
Fortunately, the scan was finished, and I was released. Two nurses appeared and helped me to a chair.
"What happened?" they all asked.
"She was too rough!" I screamed in my head. But my lips meekly mumbled, "I don't know."
I didn't want to get the tech in trouble or hurt her feelings. She was just doing her job — she didn't intend to hurt me. My excuses were the hallmark of people-pleasing, the story of my life.
After nibbling crackers and sipping water, I felt better and vowed to forego mammograms forever. When I told friends what had happened, it turned out I wasn't alone. Several women shared similar experiences.
Because I believe in health screenings, though, I scheduled another appointment this year. Doctors recommended that patients use the same imaging center each year to enable the radiologist to compare apples to, well, your own apples. So I returned to the site of my misery, like a sheep being sent to slaughter.
As soon as the tech appeared at the door, I recognized her. My heart started to pound.
"Hi, Karen. I think we worked together last year," she said.
"Yeees," I said. With a nervous laugh, I added, "Actually, I hoped I'd get someone else." It wasn't the classiest way to express myself, but honesty was growth for me.
She didn't get defensive as I expected. "I can get a different technician if you'd like."
I asked some questions about her methods and if they were consistent with other staff there. She explained that all the techs pull in as much tissue as possible so as not to miss potential cancer hiding near the armpits. How could I argue with that? And there was no guarantee her replacement would be any gentler. "Let's give it a go," I said.
Next time she brought a MammoPad
After I changed into a gown, the tech returned to the room with a pink pad the thickness of a blanket.
"Have you ever had one of these cushioning pads?" she asked, as she peeled the backing off and stuck it to the bottom plate.
I hadn't. And what a difference. No weak knees, no cold sweats, very little pain.
When I got home, I Googled the cushioning pads, called MammoPads. A study from 2002 found that 74 percent of American women who participated experienced a significant decrease in discomfort when the pads were used. Unfortunately, insurance companies often won't cover the minimal cost, which may be passed on to patients. Based on my experience, I'd gladly pay a few bucks out of pocket if necessary to avoid passing out.
Again, I shared my experience with friends, some of whom told me their screening facilities regularly offer MammoPads.
Now that I'm enlightened, I'm going to request a pad for all my future mammograms. I hope more women will follow suit. If enough of us take action, more centers will start using the pads, and insurance companies may start covering the minor cost.
We have to advocate for ourselves. If I can learn to speak up, so can you. Our breasts are counting on us.