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The Sister Scoop

Mammo Whammo: Mammogram Anxiety and How to Manage It

A few weeks back, an anxiety sister told me she was a bit more anxious than usual. When I asked her if she knew why (after all, sometimes we have no idea what causes our spinning), she responded that she had her yearly mammogram scheduled for the next day. Which reminded me that my mammogram is coming up next month. And then I got anxious.

While I have never met a woman who enjoys her mammograms, I assumed none of my peers got as anxious about them as I do. My anxiety seems justified: I never have a clean read. I’m always the one getting pulled out of the waiting room for additional films and ultrasound because of a shadow, or scar tissue, or cysts, or fibroadenomas. Biopsy seems a sure bet with me (did I mention I have a needle phobia?), so it doesn’t surprise me that my heart races whenever I think about mammograms. And, of course, there’s always that pink elephant in the room…

But, apparently, I have been wrong. I’ve been surveying lots of anxiety sisters lately, and it turns out that many (most?) women experience profound anxiety in the days (weeks, for some) leading up to picture day.

The Women’s Health Center where I go for mammography is a really terrific place where patients are treated with kindness and sensitivity (Millie apologizes the entire time she scallopinis my breasts and doesn’t annoy me by asking if I’ve seen any good movies lately). The test is uncomfortable—sometimes even painful—but, not, in and of itself, anxiety-provoking (like, say, a spinal tap). Being in my mid-forties, I’ve had quite a few mammograms, and I know the staff pretty well, so it does feel a bit “old hat.” But the anxiety does not diminish. Not even a little.

“Are you kidding?” one Anxiety Sister said to me. “It just gets worse. You figure it’s gotta be your turn at some point.” Ok, she’s not known for her optimism, but I do understand what she means. Breast cancer feels epidemic these days—I’ve had two close friends diagnosed within the last year and am acquainted with three other women and a man diagnosed within the last eighteen months. Four women I am close with are five-year survivors. And many of my friends report the same story. It’s a little like being a wooden duck in a shooting gallery. No wonder we’re anxious.

For me, however, the prospect of a diagnosis is not what fuels my anxiety the most. What scares me—what terrifies me—is that, after all of the palpitations, irritability, and insomnia surrounding my mammogram appointment, and after the extra films and the additional ultrasound consults, they still will have missed something. So, my anxiety does not go away when the radiologist says, “See you next year.” It lurks there as I imagine a few rogue cells must be doing…

So what is the solution to this anxiety problem? Well, other than purchasing my own digital mammogram machine for monthly checks (say what you will about Tom Cruise—I’m impressed with any man who buys his wife medical equipment for her birthday), I guess I have to trust that my weekly shower exams and my biannual feel-ups at my gynecologist’s office (I make him grope me from every angle), along with annual digital mammograms with ultrasound will most likely allow me to catch any mutations in an early treatable stage.

Yeah, right. Easier said than done. So what I actually do is allow myself to indulge in one day of planned pre-mammogram panic per year. This way, whenever my mind starts to go the Terms of Endearment route, I tell myself, not to banish the thought, but rather to put it on hold for in-depth exploration on Mammo Monday in July. On this day, I am allowed to freak out, rewrite my will, and surf the internet for new methods of breast restoration as well as revisit all of the breast anxiety I’ve stockpiled throughout the year. After all, I’ll need something to think about for all that time I’ll spend shivering in my pink flowered gown (why do they keep those rooms so cold?), waiting for the radiologist to suggest one more film…


  • Pat
    February 2, 2022

    That is me…i felt like a fool last week when I could Not stop thinking negative thoughts and almost made myself sick
    I was sure i was the only person that is so overly scared And anxious
    All good Results But Seems to always be in the back of my mind

  • Diana
    February 5, 2022

    Anticipating the mammogram appointment, to me, is equal to facing the electric chair. Having gone from a clean mammogram one year , to a stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis 12 months later is devasting. Early detection, is often, not early enough.

  • Broni
    March 7, 2022

    I had my 1st mammo today. I’m 50. Never had one because my breasts were always the “Look, but don’t touch” kind. Always very sore… Recently, whether due to the Covid shots, or approaching menopause, they have been even more sore… =( So, today I went in…. My anxiety got the best of me – I nearly passed out…and after just two initial not even the compression ones yet…. pics, I told the nurse I need to lay down immediately or I will hit the gorund, and then spent the next 45 minutes on the floor trying to hold it together, not to throw up and just live. =( I will have to try again. Why can’t they come up with a different method??!!


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