Penny Brohn UK

Help change life with cancer. For good

Guest blog: HealthWatch Bristol – Your first mammogram

We’re pleased to be able to share this guest blog post from Sarah Ambe, of HealthWatch Bristol, who has written about her experiences of going for a mammogram for the first time. 

On a beautiful spring morning, when I arrived outside the Avon Breast Screening clinic, I noticed a cherry blossom tree. It was a very welcoming sight to calm my nerves. I’ve never really been bothered about medical check-ups and screenings, but this one seemed to cause me more anxiety than normal. When the letter arrived on my doormat after work a few weeks ago, I wondered if someone was trying to tell me something…! The same day at work, I had received a “preparing for your end of life care”, but as I work in Health Promotion, that wasn’t hugely surprising.

Having lost one of my best friends to breast cancer 8 years ago, it’s not surprising that this appointment was nerve-wracking. I know what it’s like to see a dear friend too tired to cook or even put something in the microwave, the nausea controlling their body. How my friend dealt with the symptoms of her treatment, is something that I will never forget.

The thought of “what if they find something” was the worst bit about going for a mammogram. I still don’t know what the outcome is, but I wanted to share my experience, to reassure those who may not have yet experienced this.

What to expect

I arrived early for my appointment and they were able to book me in early. Clare my lovely nurse took me to a cubicle – a bit like when you go swimming.

Locking my belongings into the cubicle, I waited to be called into the mammogram machine room. This looks like a giant cider press, with a clear glass bit on top which sits atop your breast tissue. There is a slightly cold plate where the bottom of your breast goes.  At times like this, having a bit extra on top I felt was useful, but she assured me they can adapt the machine for all shapes and sizes.

Did it hurt?

Not really! Having dealt with the pain of childbirth, this was very minor – it just feels like your breasts are being squeezed for a short time. Taking shots from different angles, including the side.

The nurse explained that they now call women for earlier appointments, so that they capture breast images during (peri-)menopause before changes can take place. As a result, there is a longer history of viewing an individual’s breast tissue to monitor change. This is good news! She said that my breasts were “menopausal and more fatty than glandular”… I didn’t take it personally! Something I never knew, apparently younger women have more glandular breasts. This is probably something to do with why, post-40, the breasts start to lose the gravity of the bouncier twenties and thirties…..

How did I feel?

I did come out happier and relieved that I had done my bit for women-kind, and that if you haven’t had a mammogram, it’s really no biggie. It’s far better to experience a few moments of discomfort, to potentially save a life, and I will hopefully be here a while yet to annoy my children and future grandchildren….

Top Tip – wear a cardigan that covers your important bits, it can be a bit “nippy” pardon the pun(!), when you take your bra and top off. They do tell you to bring a cardigan.

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