First Mammogram: What to Expect


Getting ready to schedule your first mammogram? Looking for information on what you should know before you go or ways in which to prepare? Look no further!

Just 2 weeks ago, I was scrambling to gather whatever information I could find to prepare for my first mammogram. And only this short time later, I feel like an expert after having gotten one.

So if you are nervous about getting your first mammogram, hopefully sharing my experience with you along with a few tidbits of knowledge I gleaned while in the doctor's office will help ease your stress.

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Getting My First Mammogram

As I pointed out in my first post about mammograms, I was terrified to get one. In fact, I was so terrified that my 40th birthday (when I became of mammogram age) came and went without a mammogram appointment. I beat myself up every year for four years from that point, knowing that should the worst come to pass (the worst in my mind anyway) and I actually were to get breast cancer, that it would be all my fault. After all, early detection yields the highest prevention rates.

At first, I thought my fear was all about the anticipated discomfort and pain I was associating with a mammogram. But when I got right down to it, I could see that my real fear was all tied up in being diagnosed with breast cancer. As I shared in my previous post, my friend's mom growing up had cancer and the thought of having to go through what their family went through wasn't inviting. I was afraid that I actually might get diagnosed with breast cancer even though I have no breast cancer in my family history and my environment puts me at low risk.

I posted this sentiment on a friend's Facebook thread in response to her friendly mammogram reminder update. In response, she wrote:

I remember once I went to the doctor after suffering with this horrible cold, flu, something or other for weeks. Turns out I had a sinus infection among other things...I was pretty miserable. I said to the kindly, old, probably-German doctor, ruefully "I guess I should have come in a lot earlier, huh?" He said, "I'm just glad you're here now." I never forgot that kind response. So I'm just glad you're going this week, Jyl

What a kind, confidence-building response, right? It got me thinking how, as women, we are united in the fight against breast cancer. And, we are certainly united in the discomfort or pain in getting mammogram. I visualized women all over the country fighting for a cause in benefit of our own health. I was so thankful this friend has taken time to share this thoughtful response with me.

Shortly after that, Hanes approached me, sharing details about their amazing support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). They offered to help me get all set up for my first mammogram. All I would have to do was document my experience. This virtual handholding and assistance did the trick. In addition to feeling like I had lots of friends going through the same thing, I also felt like I had cheerleaders from team Hanes and NBCF on my side to calm my fears and make the process easier.

The best news? I learned after finally having my first mammogram that there was nothing to fear in the first place. Sure! The mammogram screening was uncomfortable. But, I've been through much worse, it didn't last long, and it was over almost before it began. Truthfully, the headache I had that morning was worse than my mammogram. And even if I were to get the dreaded diagnosis, I also learned that many moms raise children while battling breast cancer and many moms kick it, meaning that there is hope!

What to Expect From Your First Mammogram

Being nervous about getting your first mammogram is understandable. But knowledge is power. So, let me share a few things I experienced and learned while getting over my mammogram fear that may be helpful as you approach or plan for your screening date.

The most important thing that I learned was that the whole process was simple—fast, painless, and easy. I checked in, was shown to a locker where I took off everything from the waste up and put on a hospital gown, waited in a waiting area, and went into a room with one technician. I was nervous and loved that the technician was calm and let me go at my own pace. She explained every part of what I was about to experience, continued explaining things throughout, and then showed me the images when we were done with even more explanation. From there, I went into another waiting area and shortly thereafter, the doctor came into see me. At that point, she could have asked for an additional screening, but since my images looked good, she said she'd see me next year.

All that said, knowing a few things in advance is helpful, so here are five things I found helpful:

  • Any time of the month is the right time to get your first mammogram. Even if you are having your period when you get your first mammogram, you'll be OK. My menstrual cycle started that very morning and again, the pain I felt was much more on the discomfort side than real pain.
  • Wear a shirt and a skirt or a shirt and pants. You need to remove your clothing from the waist up, so it's easiest to simply remove a shirt and a bra than to take off a dress.
  • Relax. If you have a low tolerance for pain or medical procedures or are otherwise stressed about getting your first mammogram, consider taking an iPod and playing calming music to relieve your stress. The more relaxed you are, the faster it will be over.
  • Know that it'll be over almost as soon as it begins. You have to have four pictures taken—two front and two side—and that's it. My entire screening took all of 20 minutes and that was with me asking gobs of questions.
  • Ask lots of questions. The technicians and doctor are so kind and will answer all of your questions. Research ahead of time and ask and get answers to as many as will help you feel comfortable. For example, my friends all told me to ask about breast density, so the technician spent quite a bit of time explaining and showing me things on my images regarding that.

What tips do you recommend to women getting their first mammogram?

Disclosure: I was compensated for my participation in this campaign sponsored by #HanesForGood. All thoughts and opinions, including those shared about or from my first mammogram experience, are my own.
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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.


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