As I was getting ready to leave my first OB-GYN appointment after I turned 40, my doctor told me that she’d be writing me an order to get a mammogram.
I’ll admit that I was less than thrilled at this reminder that I am now middle-aged-ish. To be honest, I thought about just “forgetting” to call to schedule it. I have no family history of breast cancer and remembered reading that mammograms before the age of 50 don’t improve outcomes and can cause unnecessary interventions. (Here are the official recommendations for when women should begin getting mammograms.) However, I am a rule-follower, so I went ahead and scheduled the appointment.
The Screening Appointment
I scheduled my screening appointment close to lunch time and snuck out of the office; I was hoping it wouldn’t take too long and that I could avoid taking a PTO day for it. I checked in and was sent back to a locker room that sort of reminded me of a spa, except that I’d be getting pictures of my compressed breasts taken instead of a massage. I was directed to undress from the waist up and put on a robe to cover myself on top.
When it was my turn, I was called back by a very nice mammographer and a student she was instructing in taking the images. I took off the robe and was directed where to stand.
I am not an overly modest person, and I know it’s all in the name of saving lives, but I didn’t like being so exposed in this situation. My breasts are not the same after six years of being pregnant and breastfeeding, and while the staff were very nice and I know they’ve seen everything, I felt uncomfortable standing topless with my now-weird nipples in front of two people that were fully clothed.
(Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting they should have taken their tops off, too.)
The mammographer positioned my left breast on the machine, pushed a button to compress it (it was like pancake-level flat, not painful, but not comfortable), and then ordered me not to breathe while the picture was taken. I found not breathing surprisingly difficult with my breast compressed, but I did my best.
We got another angle taken for the lymph nodes above my breast and then did the other side. I made it back to work without any issues and looked forward to not having to do this again for another year.
The Call Back
The next day, as I was walking to the train, I got a call from the scheduling office at the hospital. The woman on the phone told me I needed to come in for a three-hour follow-up appointment as soon as possible. Could I do Tuesday at 1:45pm?
I sort of freaked out. I asked her what they’d seen that made them want to bring me back in, and she said that she was just a scheduler and didn’t have any additional information. If I wanted to know more, I’d have to call the doctor that ordered the mammogram.
I finished scheduling the appointment, hung up the phone, and called my doctor’s office. It was 5:01pm, and they were closed.
This meant that I had a long night of Googling variations of “called back for mammogram what does it mean” ahead of me.
What Does it Mean to Get Called Back After a Mammogram?
Honestly, I was actually somewhat reassured by the Google results. It wasn’t how it normally is when you skin your knee, search for how to do first aid for it, and the internet tells you that you have knee cancer.
Instead, I learned that it is extremely common for women to be called back for a second look after a mammogram, especially when it’s your first. This is because they don’t have anything to compare it to, and they’d rather be safe than sorry.
Still, it was a pretty stressful wait until my appointment.
I went back to the hospital, but this time was directed to diagnostic mammography instead of screening mammography. I was taken back to another spa-like locker room, and then once again undressed from the waist up and donned a robe.
When I was called back, a different mammographer took me back to a room with a mammogram machine. She showed me the picture of the image of my right breast, and pointed out the difference between that picture and the one of my left breast. There was a little bright spot on the right that wasn’t there on the left, and I could see right away why they had called me back.
We took another mammogram, just on the right side, and then she took me to an ultrasound room for a breast ultrasound. This felt oddly familiar from my pregnancies, what with the goop and the wand and the fear (I had had three missed miscarriages), but this time the wand went on my breast instead of my belly.
After a few minutes of pushing the wand on my right breast, the mammographer shook her head and said she didn’t see anything. She took a few pictures (I didn’t ask if she could print them out for me to take home, like with the baby ultrasound pictures) and said she was going to go talk to the radiologist.
When she came back in, the radiologist was with her. She said she had good news: everything looked normal, and I could come back for my regular screening mammogram the following year.
Hearing this news was such a relief and a weight off of both my husband’s shoulders and my own. In the end, I’m glad I went and got checked out, as stressful as the week in between appointments was. I’ve already made my appointment for next year, and though the news was good, I will be desperately hoping to not be called back again.