5 Non-Hysterical Tips For Surviving Your First Mammogram

by Deborah Copaken
Originally Published: 
A young woman at her first mammogram

Before I had my first mammogram, older and wiser women pulled me aside to warn me of the upcoming offense to body and soul.

“Like slamming your boob in the door of a refrigerator,” one said.

“Most painful thing I’ve ever experienced since childbirth,” warned another.

“Totally embarrassing,” said another. “They literally hold your boob in their hands and maneuver it as if it were a piece of liver.”

Suffice it to say, I girded myself for the worst. But you know what? I’m here to tell you it’s no big deal. In fact, for all of you who are preparing for and fretting over your first mammogram, allow me to set the record straight and offer these handy words of advice:

1) Slamming your boob in a refrigerator would hurt. Mammograms do not hurt your boobs with a violent slam so much as they politely squish them. Try an experiment: Take your naked boob, flop it on top of the dining room table. Maybe place a pitcher with ice on that spot first, for about an hour. Take your Oxford English Dictionary out of the freezer. Put it on top of your boob. Apply a bit of pressure. Voila, that’s a mammogram.

2) Re: the embarrassment part, I spent my 20s living in France, where everyone, including grandmas, goes topless on the beach. I also shop for bras at one of those old-fashioned places on New York’s Upper West Side where the ladies handle your boobs constantly. So I have zero hang-ups about strangers seeing or touching my totally average-looking small boobs. Seriously, if it were socially acceptable to walk around topless on really hot days or answer the door without a robe, I would. If you have hang-ups about your boobs and unlimited funds, may I suggest a summer in Antibes? For everyone else, either visit my bra shop or just sign up to be a nude model in a local life drawing class. They pay! In fact, do that often enough, and you can maybe afford that trip to Antibes.

3) The whole thing about not wearing anti-perspirant is a must. If you are like me, and applying anti-perspirant every morning is something you do on autopilot, put a rubber band around your anti-perspirant the night before to remind you not to put it on. It might take you a few minutes of staring at the rubber band to remember why on earth you put it there—you are, after all, over 40—but it will definitely act as a deterrent. If you forget and put it on, not only will your nurse get really mad at you and/or make you come back another day, a tiny flake of anti-perspirant could lead to a false positive, and trust me, you don’t want that.

4) The only really uncomfortable part of the mammogram, in my opinion, is the whole rib issue. Or maybe it’s just me, I don’t know, but I asked my editor, and she said it bothered her, too, so that makes at least two of us. Once your boob is in the squishing machine, your ribs are pushed up against the plastic. Again, it’s not painful so much as awkward and uncomfortable. Like, it would be totally annoying to have to stand there rib-smacked for longer than five minutes, but the average mammogram is hardly longer than that, so just suck it up and know that it’ll be over soon.

5) Let’s put it this way: Would you rather be slightly uncomfortable and embarrassed for five minutes a year or dead? I just watched that excellent Kurt Cobain documentary on HBO last night, so I know what his answer would be, but I’m assuming most of you are not too-quickly-famous, guitar-playing heroin addicts with a childhood history of ADHD, being shamed by your father and kicked out of your mother’s, and currently married to a narcissist lead singer with borderline personality disorder. (If you are, my apologies.) Everyone else, for heaven’s sake, go get that mammogram.

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