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Mammogram: One woman’s view

I turned 42 in January. This was relatively insignificant to me until I visited my physician a few weeks after my birthday for an ongoing sinus infection.

“When was your last mammogram?” she asked, head down in the chart.

“Er…um…I’ve never had one,” I stammered.

“You’ve never had a mammogram?” she arched one eyebrow over her glasses, all school-teacher-like.

And so began the process.

To be quite honest with you, I didn’t put it off because I was afraid of it. I just really hate going to the doctor…it’s such an inconvenience for me to make time with a toddler. I realize it’s not as big of an inconvenience as say, cancer, but still… 

The day that I arrived at the hospital, I was nervous–not for the results, but for the unknown. I mean, all you ever hear women say is how much it hurts. I’m relatively well-endowed, so I wasn’t looking forward to (what will now forever be known to me as) The Boob Squishing.

As I sat in the waiting room, I read over the order and realized that I hadn’t followed any of the directions on there: Don’t wear deodorant. Don’t wear powder. Don’t wear perfume. I had done all three. When I revealed this to the tech, she gave me four tiny wet wipes. I sat in the curtain enclosed room “bathing” myself with tiny squares of wipes and then donning the ugliest printed “cape” I had ever seen.

The process itself wasn’t as bad as I thought; the tech that I had was very funny and we joked around a lot (which is great for me–someone who deflects uncomfortable situations with humor). Including check-in time, I was in and out in around 30 minutes.

A day later, I received a call that I needed to come back in for a follow-up mammogram–where they use “the plates” (I was told)–for an “area of concern.”

If you take anything away from this article, know this: the follow-up mammogram is way worse than the actual mammogram. I quickly found out that The Plates meant plexiglass-looking squares that they had now inserted onto the machine. They use The Plates to squish your boob (squishier than before) between The Plate and the mammography machine. They twist The Plate until it is sitting right on your boob, and then they twist it down some more (think big, flat shop vise). (Sorry.) I watched as my massive breast was compressed and flattened out like a pancake. And when I thought it couldn’t get any flatter, the tech twisted that plate down some more. Ouch.

Luckily, it’s only for a few seconds at a time. Unluckily, there were many different views, which meant rearranging and twisting a lot.

After the exam, I waited for the radiologist to review the film. A few minutes passed before the tech re-entered the room. “You’re all clear,” she said with a no-big-deal flip of the hand. “You don’t need to come back until next year. Everything looks good.”

What a relief. However, I’ll do things differently next time. Here’s what I learned:

Don’t wear things that smell good. Don’t wear deodorant, lotions, perfumes or powder on the day of your mammogram. According to, “these things can make shadows show up on your mammogram” which can give false readings.

Check your modesty at the door. Seriously, there’s no need for embarrassment. I jokingly said to the tech, “How is it looking at breasts all day” and she said, “Honestly? I don’t even think about it.” You’re more uncomfortable than them and they’re probably just thinking about what they’re going to make for dinner…trust me.

Capes aren’t only for super heroes. They’re going to give you a cape…and you’re not going to feel like a super hero. Be sure to wear pants or a skirt, because you will remain dressed in your clothes from the waist down. When you get the cape it will probably be really, really ugly. I’m sorry for that. (Wear cute shoes that day to feel better about yourself.)

It does hurt, but not as much as they say. The original mammogram was uncomfortable, bordering on hurting. However, based on some of the stories, I expected a lot worse. I don’t recommend going around the time you have your period if you get super sensitive breasts during that time.

Call-backs are not that unusual. Apparently, getting a call-back for a follow-up mammogram isn’t that unusual. According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, “all women have a 5 to 15 percent chance of being recalled. It doesn’t mean you have breast cancer…In fact, the odds are against it.”

The follow-up really does hurt. If you’re receiving a call-back, it is because they need to do further testing. This means using The Plates–more compression, flattening and squishing. It does hurt–a lot–but only for a few seconds.

Talk about it. I was very open with my family, friends and even on my blog about my first mammogram and my call-back. It was very reassuring to hear the stories, especially about the call-backs that turned out to be nothing. 

Want to help a woman in need get a free mammogram? Visit The Breast Cancer Site where, with one click, you can help a woman in need get a mammogram. 


Also, visit to see a list of facilities that give free or discounted mammograms.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]About the Author

Jacqueline Wilson is a wife, mother, published author and freelance writer who highly recommends getting your first mammogram before age 42. She writes here, on 40 Moms Club, and on her daily parenting humor blog, Writer Ramblings on Parenting Imperfectly. Follow her on Twitter as @WritRams.[/author_info]


Along with being a contributor to, Jacqueline Wilson is: Appalachia Advocate~Supporter of Women~Writer~Accidental Pit Bull Advocate.


  1. Just Margaret

    February 17, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    SO glad to hear that you got the all clear. I remember the plates. The plates…augh. But, as you said, it’s pretty quick. I’d characterize it as really uncomfortable, but not sharp ouchie pain. My first one was pre-kids, so at the time I didn’t have that comparison, but even then, I didn’t think it was too bad.

    This is great info, Jackie. Thanks for the great info!

    • Just Margaret

      February 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

      Oh dear. Don’t mind redundo-girl there in the last line. *facepalm*

      • Jacqueline W.

        February 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm

        HAHAHA! Margaret. Awesome. :)

  2. Marybeth Levine

    February 17, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Thanks for posting this and sharing all the good info – I too have yet to have my first mammogram (I know, I know), but planned to this year sometime. I definitely will now after my regular dr. check-up.

    • Jacqueline W.

      February 17, 2011 at 9:34 am

      GO! It really isn’t as bad as we have built it up to be in our mind. And, it is so fast. I couldn’t believe how fast I was in and out of there! (PS–for those of us that have given birth…well, you got this covered. It’s nothing compared to that…)

  3. 40MomsClub

    February 17, 2011 at 12:55 am

    Mammogram: One woman’s view… #health #women #moms

    • Ann Stanland

      February 19, 2011 at 7:27 pm

      Did you get your mammogram in the U.S. or Canada? I’m 42 as well and just last year they changed the age for getting a mammogram without a doctor’s referral to age 50.

      So if I had chosen to have one for my 40th birthday, as I’m sure that most women do, then I would have already had one!

      • Jacqueline W.

        February 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm

        Hi Ann,
        I am in the U.S. (are you in Canada)?

        There has been a lot of controversy surrounding a study suggesting women don’t need mammograms before age 50. However, I haven’t talked to one physician (or woman) that agrees with this yet. From my experience, they’re still suggesting them starting at age 40 (younger if you’ve had a family history of breast cancer or previous issues).

        • Ann Stanland

          February 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm

          Thanks for letting me know.

          I’ll have to ask my doctor for a referral.

          Really looking forward to the boob pancake and the no deodorant thing.

          Keep well.

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