Diary: My First Mammo

When I was an underdeveloped 12-year-old stuffing wads of cotton balls into my training bra, I wrote this verse, titled, A Request for Breasts:

Puberty, come through for me! Pretty, pretty please?

Deliver me D-cups!

OK, Ill settle for Cs!

Cuz theres only one upside to being as flat as I am

I'll never need a mammogram.

Puberty never came through with the massive mammaries. And while Ive grown up to see the truth behind most misguided convictions from my middle school years for example, that a white, fringed-leather jacket is an asset to any wardrobe I clung to the belief that a modest (OK, tiny) bust at least afforded me some leeway when it came to getting screened for breast cancer. I figured any growths would be quickly discovered during my monthly in-the-shower manual exams.

But when I turned 35 and my primary care physician suggested that I get a baseline mammogram to which all future mammograms would be compared, I pretty much ignored him for a year. Why? Though Im much younger than my relatives were when they found out they had breast cancer, I was still afraid that the test would turn up something abnormal. This, I know, is the whole point of getting a mammogram in the first place.

But, apparently, Im not alone in my paradoxical no-news-is-better-than-bad-news approach. According to a University of Pennsylvania study, a breast cancer scare even when it turns out to be a false alarmcan cause women to put off future screenings. Still, given my family history and the fact that I have a young son, I knew I couldn't put it off forever. It cant hurt, my doctor said in encouragement during a recent visit. I thought to myself, Oh yeah? Have you ever had your A-minus boob mashed into a silver-dollar pancake?!

The procedure wasn't painful, but it wasn't exactly pleasant, either. My technician, Jessica, handled my ta-tas with a deft touch, purposefully positioning each breast in the mammography unit, then gently squeezing it flat between the platform and a Plexiglas paddle. She chatted as she worked, which helped keep my mind off why I was there.

Its unusual to see such dense breast tissue in someone who breast-fed, she observed as she nudged my pointy nipples into position. Having a smaller bust helps. SCORE ONE FOR MY PERKY PREPUBESCENT BOOBIES! I cheered until Jessica explained that dense breast material is often indistinguishable from tumors, making it harder to get an accurate reading. Thats why many doctors advise low- risk patients to wait until they're 40 when their breast tissue is, um, less dense. The technical term for saggy, cracked my friend Alyce, who is a 32C.

Her joke shed light on the final, most irrational reason Id been reluctant to get screened: A first mammogram is a rite of passage, and I had trouble accepting that I was old enough to qualify. As milestones go, its less fun (and more stressful) than getting a drivers license or buying that first beer. But Im glad I did it, especially because the results came back normal. If, for whatever reason, I need to go back before Im 40, I wont delay, because knowing the truth is always better than not knowing. And for that peace of mind, a few minutes of boob-squishing discomfort is a small price to pay. Very small in my case.

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