Amy Sarah Marshall is an online content strategist at UVA Health. She put off her mammogram for a long time but got this one at Northridge Medical Park in January 2020.
There’s so many reasons for not getting a mammogram.
Getting a mammogram isn’t fun. That is, it’s not something you schedule because you look forward to having your various body parts draped awkwardly around a machine and then mashed like a potato. And who doesn’t love getting naked with total strangers? (Answer: Me.)
There’s also the fear. What if they find something? You know people who have had breast cancer and survived. You think about that neighbor, for instance. The one you secretly hate. She always had a perfect life – organic gardens, fashionable house, gorgeous kids – and somehow, after a double mastectomy, she still seems to be knocking life out of the park.
Not everyone lives through it, though. Your second and third cousins didn’t. Otherwise, your family history doesn’t raise any cancerous flags, but that’s no guarantee that the toxic chemicals supplying your life with a socially acceptable level of cleanliness haven’t mucked with a gene here or there. Deep down, in the dark, your cells could be rebelling, multiplying, planning to attack.
Which is why, despite all the reasons you have for not getting a mammogram, you do it anyway. You’ve avoided it for a couple years. It’s time.
Making Your Mammogram Appointment (Reluctantly)
You make the call. You’re grateful, because the scheduler who answers the phone has a bright voice. There’s tons of available appointments. You’re able to choose a day and time that won’t make this a rushed and frazzled ordeal. You can do it at your lunch hour and be done.
You’re also glad because, at UVA, you have options on where to get your mammogram. They include the convenient mobile mammography coach that travels to different locations. But you choose Northridge Medical Park. It’s quiet there, with easy parking. The less hassle, the more likely you won’t just “forget” to go.
The day of your mammogram, you get dressed thinking about it. It’s cold outside, and you’re not looking forward to that thin, pink approximation of fabric they call a “gown.”
When you arrive at Northridge, though, you pull into a parking spot right at the front. You don’t have to wait in line to register, and the person who takes your information does so kindly. When you find your way into the actual clinic, the woman behind the desk greets you cheerily. She compliments on you on your earrings, and then you’re getting called back.
The person who calls you escorts you through the door with the kind of care and attention you honestly don’t get anywhere else. “I’ll be taking care of you today,” she says. It’s the same line you might hear when you’re getting a mani-pedi or sitting down at a fancy restaurant. But it’s not what you expect from a hospital visit.
You remember the drill – a private stall where you change into the pink gown, then the dim room where the machine waits. All is quiet, calm, clean. The technician washes her hands and it’s time to get down to business.
Magical 3D Mammography
Because you have dense breast tissue, you have to get 3D mammograms, or tomosynthesis. This sounds extra scary, but really, it’s not. It’s kind of magic, really, that this kind of technology exists. As the efficient but gentle woman arranges you into position for the scan, you think about all the women in the past who died from breast cancer without even knowing they had it. If you’d been born just 20 years earlier, you wouldn’t have access to a machine with the power to detect cancer in your kind of breasts. You realize how lucky you are to be here.
You’re not just lucky to be here, in the year 2020. You’re lucky to be here in Charlottesville, with access to UVA Health. Not everyone lives in the same town as an academic medical center bustling with research and new treatments and experts. Not everyone can get a mammogram, let alone a 3D one. Not everyone has the confidence that, if they do find cancer, they’ll be seen by people who really know what they’re doing. You do: You trust the people here and their tools.
And it’s over. No, it wasn’t fun exactly, but the technician did make you laugh. The scans went really quickly, and you could tell by her confident movements that she was experienced and thorough. Not just that, but she chatted with you about your kids in such a way that made you feel like a person, not just a duty, an object or task to accomplish as part of her job. “It was so nice to meet and get to know you,” she says, and you feel the same about her.
Getting a Mammogram: Take the First Step
If I can muster up the courage and find the time, you can, too. Find a convenient mammogram location.
You pull on your clothes, your coat. You walk past the room where you could have waited and had some coffee if there’d been a line. The receptionist waves goodbye.
You don’t know the outcome of today’s appointment. As the technician reminded you, you’ll get a call if you need to come back for more tests. If not, you’ll get a letter – the all-clear. Either way, you’ll be able to see the results of your mammogram scan in MyChart in a couple days, if not sooner. And so will your main doctor. Who will answer you if you have questions, as she always does, right there online through the app.
So who knows? Maybe it was a waste of time. And scary, and a little uncomfortable. And the news could be bad. But the feeling you have right now about getting a mammogram today at UVA is a mix of gratitude and relief. You feel like a very lucky human being right now. Which makes you feel like a better one. Maybe you’re not as lucky as the neighbor with the perfect life – but, then again, maybe you’re closer than you think. You have a lot to be thankful for.