Be Smart. Get a Mammogram

Because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am inspired to write my own opinions and experiences on the subject. It’s not very dramatic, so you can skip this one if you want, but I celebrate the fact that it’s not dramatic at all.

Years ago, I received a kit that demonstrated exactly how a woman should examine her breasts. It included a cassette tape with instructions and a lifelike model of a female breast. What made it different from mine was that it contained 3 or 4 lumps that were firmer than the rest of the breast, so I could detect them and identify them as cancerous lumps. Often, when you’re doing a self-examination, you’re not sure what you’re looking for, so I found this to be very helpful.

Some controversy has been brought forth over the efficacy of this annual procedure, especially in older women, but I prefer to go with whatever is available to me. Not doing so could result in breast cancer. Because my insurance makes it free, and it only takes a few minutes, it’s foolish not to take advantage of this simple test that might save my life.

Yes, it is uncomfortable, but only for a few seconds, and I’ve had blood pressure readings that hurt more than this. Yes, it’s a little uncomfortable to stand in front of another woman with your full breast exposed, but we must remember that in this setting, it’s only tissue, something that needs a thorough look with the help of a machine that has no sexual feelings.

I sat on a panel a few years ago with some other women with disabilities, and our audience was a group of mammogram technicians, although they had a fancier title than that. They asked what they could do to make our exams more comfortable. Other than telling them not to squish our breasts, we had some practical advice that varied with each disability. Here was mine.

I think it’s silly and time consuming to have to go into a little room, take off my top and bra and stow it in a locker along with my purse, lock the door, put on a gown that opens in the front and return to another waiting room. When I go into the room where they do the exam, I have to take the gown off just one shoulder, so it exposes only one breast. All this rigmarole is unnecessary and time consuming, so when I get to the little room for the disrobing, I always say, “Just let me take off my top in the exam room. It’s a lot simpler.” I have never had a technician argue with me, because it makes so much sense. when I’m done, my clothes are right there on the chair, and so is my purse.

When I did this last week, I asked if I should still be getting a mammogram every year at my age. She recommended continuing until I was 80 or so. Looks like I have a few more years to take about 20 minutes out of my day to do something smart that could save my life.

Mary Hiland

Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at


3 thoughts on “Be Smart. Get a Mammogram

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