‘I’m terrified of having my first mammogram after I lost someone to breast cancer’

By Staff 6 Min Read

Agony aunt Coleen Nolan has advice for a reader who is nervous about having a mammogram after losing someone close to them to breast cancer, and would like help facing her fears

Dear Coleen

I’m a 50-year-old woman and I’ve been invited to go for my first ever mammogram appointment but I’m absolutely dreading it.

A couple of my friends who’ve had them already have complained of being poked and prodded and generally mauled by the mammogram nurse! And, when they did finally get their scans done, they said it hurt like hell.

It doesn’t help that one of my relatives was diagnosed with breast cancer and died only a few months after she had a mastectomy – why put someone through that when they haven’t got long to live anyway? It was very distressing.

I did a bit of research online and learned that the machine they use for breast screening can pick up cancer years before it turns into a lump. I know my relative didn’t even have a lump.

I admire how brave your family has been in the face of this horrible disease, but I don’t think I can handle this.

I’d welcome any advice you can give to help me face this in a positive way, so I don’t end up bailing on my appointment.

Coleen says

I’m hearing a lot of fear in your letter, which is probably a lot to do with your relative dying from breast cancer.

You’re imagining the ­worst-case scenario for yourself and that’s all you’re focused on, not the flipside, which is that you’ll be screened and be given a clean bill of health.

Look, I think it’s normal to be afraid of something we haven’t experienced before, but if you can face your fears and power through them, it’s incredibly liberating. Think how great you’ll feel when it’s done and are hopefully told everything looks normal.

I’ve heard so many stories over the years about mammograms being painful. I’m the biggest coward when it comes to anything health related – I hate it, I dread it and I can’t sleep, but I never ignore it.

I have a mammogram every two years because of my family history. Three of my sisters have battled the disease so, my attitude is, if I’m going to get it, I’m going to make sure it’s picked up as soon as possible, so I can be treated.

I never miss appointments and I can tell you honestly it’s not painful. I’ve had injections that are worse. The machine has to squash your breast to take a scan. It’s uncomfortable for a few seconds and that’s it.

Yes, maybe you’ll find it embarrassing – the nurse has to lift your breast on to the machine to get it in the right position for the scan, which can feel a bit like she’s kneading dough!

But if it has the potential to save your life, it’s 100% worth it.

Every mammogram nurse I’ve had has been kind, ­empathetic and gentle. Believe in yourself and good luck.

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