Following doctor’s orders: My first mammogram at 40

Know what to expect during your first mammogram appointment

portrait of doctor terstriep

When you’re a physician, there is a lot of responsibility you feel. I’m concerned for not just my patients’ care but for their well-being. I want to make sure they know the facts and are properly educated when it comes to their health. And for me, part of that has become practicing what I preach.

I was getting closer and closer to my 40th birthday and I knew it was time for my first mammogram. But despite knowing the guidelines and recommendations, I started feeling nervous. I came up with excuses why I should postpone it. I had invited a few members of the media to document it, but now I was second-guessing myself.

For the past few months, I was experiencing a slight pain in my left breast that radiated down my arm and caused itchiness in my armpit. I knew it could be a sign of a problem. Did I really want that documented for the world to see? But then I thought about my responsibility to my patients. If I was experiencing these feelings with my background, what must they be feeling? So I set the date, invited the press and prepared for my first mammogram.

Because I had been feeling some pain, I had a diagnostic mammogram on my left breast and a 3D one on my right. If you have an issue like I did, make sure you tell your physician before getting screened. That way, you can receive a diagnostic mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram is different than a screening one because it takes more images and takes them from different angles. The radiologist will also examine the images immediately in case other images are needed.

When the day came, I was feeling a little nervous about how uncomfortable it might be. However, the technologist explained to me what I would feel and that I could actually tell them to stop if the pressure was too much. She also discussed with me about hormone use, how old I was when I had my first period and how old I was when I had my first child. This is important information when evaluating breast cancer risk.

After the mammogram finished, I met with the radiologist. He viewed the images and said he didn’t see any areas of concern. It was definitely a relief and I was so glad I had done it. And I will continue to have one every year. Some women are concerned about the safety or necessity of doing it annually, but the benefits far outweigh the low-risk.

I know it can be scary, especially if you are concerned about something. Just remember it is completely normal to have those feelings of fear or dread. But this isn’t something you should avoid. If you don’t go now, you might have to deal with something worse down the line. So hopefully by doing this and sharing my experience, more women will be inspired to schedule their annual mammogram. Pick a day on the calendar and schedule for that day every year. Then once you are done, go do something fun! Reward yourself for taking care of your health and future.

Posted In Cancer, Health Information, Imaging, Women's