Two days after surviving my very first mammogram, I received a call back from the mammography clinic. The friendly receptionist informed me that the radiologist has requested that I come back for additional imaging.
My heart sank.
Okay… I replied and then requested the next available appointment that they had. “I will put you in at 2:15pm so that we have time to do your ultrasound right after your follow-up mammogram.”
“Yes. I’m scheduling you for additional mammogram images followed by a breast ultrasound on both sides.”
While I can appreciate that this woman obviously makes calls like this one all day, everyday and that it is a business, is it really that difficult to show some compassion? Or, at the bare minimum tell me what you are scheduling at the start of the call, not just mumble it to yourself as you scroll through appointment times.
I hung up the phone and froze for a moment. Had they found something suspicious? Do I have a lump?
I started feeling my breasts as if I would be actually be able to find whatever it was that the mammogram had found.
I texted my best friend who happens to work in health care to ask if it was normal to be called back for additional images. I watched my phone, waiting for her reply that I had predetermined to read “No, it is NOT normal! You are probably DYING!”
To my surprise (and relief), she told me that it was very typical to be called back for additional imagine and an ultrasound when you are younger than the ‘recommended’ age for mammograms, simply because your breasts are more dense, making it more difficult for the radiologist to see everything that needs to be seen. I am 34 but because my mother had breast cancer at 40 years of age, I have to start routine mammograms much earlier than the average woman. Her texts put my mind at ease…. especially since she assured me that this was happening because I was young and because my breasts were dense. These two words were music to a tired, haggered mama who has breastfed 3 piranha-like children and sometimes feels like my breasts are stretched and mangled completely beyond recognition. Young and dense. I can live with these ‘issues.’
Time seemed to drag on as I anticipated my follow-up appointment which was scheduled for 2 days later. When the day of my follow-up exam finally came, I received a call first thing in the morning from the clinic informing me that their system was down so they needed to reschedule.
You have got to be kidding me!
It was a very snowy and icy day. A lot of businesses had closed for the weather and I was already questioning whether or not to drive on the highway to this appointment but I knew better than to put off something so important. The clinic’s “system being down” was pretty suspicious to me, especially since the call came in at 8:45am and my appointment wasn’t until 2:15pm. How do you know your ‘system’ won’t be up by then? The skeptic in me assumed that they were either closing early or a technician was unable to make it in due to the weather. Either way, I asked to be rescheduled for as soon as possible.
“When would you like to come in?” the receptionist asked. “Tomorrow morning please.” I said, eager to get this done. “Unfortunately we don’t have any appointments for tomorrow morning,” she said apologetically. “Okay, do you have any openings for tomorrow afternoon?” I asked. “Umm let me check… No, unfortunately we are fully booked. Is there another day or time that you would like to come in?” “Okay…if Thursday is totally booked then how about any time on Friday?” “Unfortunately because you need a mammogram AND an ultrasound, we don’t have time to do both on Friday as we are really full. Are you available any other time?”
Am I being punked? Is this some kind of sick joke? What is happening right now??
“Why don’t you tell me your next available appointment and I will make it work so I can be there?” I suggested anxiously. “How about Monday at 3:30?” I don’t really think I have a choice. “Sure!” I said.
Great… if I do have a lump or something suspicious, my follow-up appointment has now been postponed by 5 days.
I showed up for the appointment and got undressed and ready for the mammogram. It was basically the same as last time except with some added pressure, squeezing and bending my body in awkward positions to accommodate the mammography machine.
Then, I went in for my ultrasound. “Have you ever had a breast ultrasound before?” the technician asked. “No I haven’t.” I said. She then looked at me like I had 3 heads for a split-second before asking me to expose my right breast and lie as close to the edge of the bed as possible.
Great… I’m definitely dying.
She explained that breast ultrasound were a bit tricky as I would have to put my arm up over my head, lean over but balance my breast myself in the middle.
I must have looked as confused as I felt as she laughed and showed me what she meant. Basically, in order to effectively scan the entire breast, it can’t be ‘flopping’ from one side or another. So you have to lie at an angle that allows your breast to lay perfectly ‘square’ with your torso so that the technician can basically scan outward from your nipple across your breast like rays coming out from the sun. Now that’s a weird description, isn’t it?
I tried to subtly study her face as she squeezed warm jelly on me and then maneuvered her probe across my breast tissue. I was looking for a ‘tell,’ like the expression that says “Oh there’s the lump that’s going to kill you!” Or “There’ nothing to be found in this breast. Why am I wasting my time doing this scan?” But I’m pretty confident that ultrasound technicians are used to patients trying to read their minds from the paper-lined bed and as a result, they have serious poker faces. These are the people you want to see in a poker tournament! Pros!
The ultrasound on my right breast seemed to take hours. I was happy when she handed me a small cloth to awkwardly rub the jelly off my breast so she could start on my left side since that must indicate that I’m halfway done. I was surprised when she only did a few strokes of the probe on the inside of my left breast and then told me I was finished.
My quick calculation based on the difference of detail and time spent on each side led me to believe that there was something to be found in my right breast. That exam was easily 6 times longer than my left side. My heart sank and my stomach flipped.
I asked how long for the results. She said my family doctor would have them in 2-3 business days. She looked at my chart again as I wiped the jelly off of myself with the now jelly-soaked cloth and then she told me to stop.
She came back over and squirted more jelly on my left breast. “I was just looking at your chart and he only asked for an ultrasound of the inside of your left breast but you have never had a breast ultrasound before in your whole life so I’m going to do the whole thing.”
Instantly, my mind was at ease. Even though I still do not know the results of my exams, the fact that each breast was given the same time and attention, led me to assume that this really was just routine… or at least I hope it is. Hopefully I will find out soon!
I thanked her for diligently completing the full breast ultrasound. I’m no expert but I also agreed that it made complete sense to do the entire breast while I was lying there covered in jelly anyway.
Here’s hoping for boring, “no news” results!