Meghan Coppinger recently underwent her first mammogram at the age of 30. Here, she shares her experience and what helped her through it.
I just turned 30. Like every year since my 25th birthday, I was lying on the table in a light pink robe during my clinical breast exam, reminding my doctor of a spot that had been giving me discomfort and problems for a few years.
“It hurts when you press on it. Everyone keeps telling me it’s cyclical, but it’s not,” I told her. I was rambling to offset the uncomfortableness of the situation, but glad I was doing it because I’d absolutely downplay the issue if I was sitting upright and clothed.
I laughed – I feel like a teenager at heart, even though I was born in the 1990s.
“Aren’t I too young for a mammogram?” I asked her. She assured me she didn’t think anything was wrong, but it would be a safe and proactive option to get my mammogram now so that we’d have something to compare it to when it’s time for me to go annually. And the ultrasound was needed, she reminded me, to be absolutely certain that the sensitive and painful spot on my breast wasn’t an issue.
I received the script for both in February 2023. Guess who waited until July to book her appointment?
I work here at Susan G. Komen. I have the honor to tell the stories of our survivors, metastatic thrivers, volunteers, caregivers and supporters every single day. I work with many colleagues here who have been touched by this disease. So, I know better than to assume my age would save me from a breast cancer diagnosis or breast health issues.
My husband and mother asked me if I called the office every week. I am a lucky individual with a supportive work environment that encourages self-care. I had health insurance. I had a doctor who listened to my concerns and was willing to fight for me to get the care I needed. I can drive myself to an appointment. The imaging center was right down the road from where I live. I had absolutely no excuse to delay or miss this screening, and I did not face any barriers to care that some women experience.
What prevented me from doing so was true fear. What if this appointment goes awry? What if they see something malignant? What if it hurts? What if insurance doesn’t cover it even though I confirmed twice that it does? Anxiety can be so crippling when it comes to health care. It can stop you in your tracks and delay all those appointments you KNOW you need to get to. My anxiety had me in a chokehold for months about it; my perfectionism was begging me to make the appointment to clear it off my to-do list. And my heart was telling me that no matter what happens, it’s important that I know the truth and take care of myself.
I realized this compulsion to avoid my appointment wasn’t going to fly. I know from experience that I can do hard things and do things that really scare me. With the help of my mental health therapist, who helped me practice accepting the fear of the unknown, I finally booked the appointment.
When the day arrived, I perused our TikTok channel to make sure I was following guidelines for mammograms – no deodorant, I wore leggings and an easily-removable top, skipped the caffeine that morning and kept a list of all the things I wanted the health care team to know.
I was the youngest person in the waiting room by decades. I was also visibly the most nervous. The waiting was interminable, especially once I was ushered into the changing area and given my new robe. I was really missing my towel warmer at this point. But I knew in just an hour or so, I’d be done.
I won’t sugarcoat this for my other girlies getting their first mammogram in their early 30s or even their 20s: the mammogram was unpleasant. Perhaps it was anxiety making the pain worse, but it certainly wasn’t the little “pinch” I was expecting. However, some calming breaths when I could take them helped me get used to it. It hurt for sure – but not enough for me to never go back. The discomfort is worth it to know what is going on with your body.
After the mammogram, it was time for my ultrasound. I have had one of those before; for the younger women who may not have experienced a breast ultrasound, it involved some jelly and a controller-like object to take images of the breast. I felt quite a bit of pressure in the spot on my breast that I have been feeling discomfort with.
My results for both were given to me right away. The doctor confirmed there was nothing suspicious on my mammogram. He did confirm there was something tiny in my left breast, but it did not have the appearance or characteristics of anything malignant. At this point, I gained some confidence and asked if he could show me exactly the area he was describing while doing a live exam with the ultrasound machine. I also point-blank asked if I needed a biopsy, to which he replied I did not this time around. I was told to come back for a follow-up visit in six months to re-visit the site, and I was confident that this was the right decision.
I left the imaging center feeling empowered and assured that I am taking good care of myself. I’ll be back in just a few weeks for my follow-up. No delay in making the appointment this time.
Anxious ladies, I share my mammogram and ultrasound experiences with you so that you know you are not alone. I’ve had my worries brushed off more times than I can count, like my anxiety isn’t real or valid. I’ve avoided making appointments more often than I should have due to fear, and at age 30, I am making it a point to challenge this face-on. Take care of your mental health so that you can show up for your physical health.
Thirty may be young, but breast cancer does not discriminate. While breast cancer’s two biggest risk factors are being born female and getting older, it is so important to discuss your own personal risk with your health care provider. This is the time to learn how to use your voice in a health care setting, because you are the only one who can truly advocate for what you are going through. Be empowered, speak up for your health and what you need.
From one anxious gal to another: you got this.
Statements and opinions expressed are those of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.