Attack of the 1000 Dollar Mammogram

Veronica Writing

Ten people. TEN.

This is how many people I dealt with while getting my annual mammogram. How did something so personal turn into an assembly line? As if getting my boobs pancaked and my skin yanked so tight that I felt it all the way up to my ears isn’t bad enough. I get to be treated like a cow in a roundup.

Before I go off on a complete diatribe, I want to be fair. I’m ALWAYS a wreck at mammogram time. My mother died of breast cancer. The final ten years of her life were hell as the cancer spread to her lymph nodes, her spine and her brain. I learned to administer shots. I watched as her brain fluid was removed from a shunt in her head to make room for the chemo to go in. I know too well the consequences of a mammogram that reveals something bad.

To add insult to injury — in a brilliantly stupid move — I booked my mammogram the day after I went to roller derby camp. My breasts were the only part of my body that didn’t hurt. I guess I didn’t want them to feel left out.

My first visit wasn’t terrible, just very impersonal. It felt a whole lot like a bureaucrat’s idea of the quickest, most efficient way to herd women through their yearly indignity. The person I made the appointment with was not the person I checked in with. Once checked in, I was sent to a phone booth in the lobby to call a centralized area of the hospital that dealt with insurance before moving on down the line.

I was given a fluffy robe and a locker. After a quick stop in an interior waiting room, the boob smashing was performed by a really nice technician. In the end, I was told that a doctor would take a look at the results and I would receive a phone call in a few days. In, out, done.

A week later, I get the call. Something was wrong. I must return for further tests, possibly an ultrasound. The woman at the end of the line obviously had a sheet of paper in front of her outlining the proper way to kindly defuse panicked patients. The answers to my (what I thought were reasonable) questions went something like this:

“Ma’am, I don’t have that information, you’ll have to speak to the radiologist when you come back.”

“Yes it’s a possible cyst, but don’t worry, 90% of the time it is not cancer.”

“All I know is that something was seen and they want to run further tests.”

And the like.

Veronica's Mother

By the time I returned for “further tests,” I was a total wreck. I had spent most of my time thinking about my mother’s ordeal, the horrendous pain, the unbelievable indignity, the treatments that had rendered her unrecognizable.

I thought about the day she posed for her last picture with her grandchildren — the former model smiling for the camera, her head so swollen from steroids she had to wear a neck brace.

By the end, my mother — a relentless degree-gatherer — lived in a world of hallucinations and oatmeal.

I didn’t come in for “further testing” in the best frame of mind.

Veronica's MotherA whole new crop of folks were there to greet me. I told each of the receptionists that I would like to see the radiologist and my mammogram results prior to any more testing. It was very important to me to see what they saw.

I was escorted back to the mammogram room and the technician began her spiel. I interrupted, and asked once again to see the radiologist. I was told that I could see the doctor when we were finished with the mammogram.

I insisted. The technician’s response was unbelievable, she rolled her eyes at me — ROLLED HER EYES — and said, “That’s not the procedure here.”

Very near tears, I again insisted.

After more eye-rolling and arguments about “the way things were done here,” she finally relented and stormed from the room. Left alone, I went from near-tears to embarrassed full-on-bawling.

Mortified by my lack of self discipline, I entered the radiologist’s office in full blubber mode. The doctor explained to me that an area in my left breast was a cause for concern. She showed me a dense area that the initial mammogram couldn’t see properly and wanted to see some different views. Armed with this knowledge, I was able to continue the tests feeling more at ease.

The second round of X-rays were sheer torture. Any kind of composure I had regained was ripped out from under me. Sensing that I was an emotional wreck, the eye-rolling technician had become very kind toward me as she twisted my left breast nearly upside-down, clamped it between two glass panes, and hand-cranked the gnarled mess down harder to obtain a better view.

My skin from my chest through my neck to my forehead was so taut I thought it would split. It hurt like hell — and back came the tears.

After releasing me from the vice, the technician assured me that she “made it go away,” meaning the new views were clean and I had nothing to worry about. I forgave her the eye-rolling escapade and thanked her profusely.

In the waiting room, I sat trying — once again — to regain my composure. This was getting embarrassing — which just exacerbated the situation. Now that I was alone, I started imagining how everyone beyond the waiting room doors were talking about the crying crazy lady they had on their hands. Not helpful.

A new woman (person #9, in case you’ve been counting along) entered the room and told me that the radiologist, after looking at the new results, wanted an ultrasound performed. What? I told her that I would like to see the new X-rays. I was escorted to the ultrasound room.

After a short wait, a very sweet ultrasound tech (#10) greeted me and asked me to lie back on the table. I again asked to see my X-rays. #10 said the radiologist would be there shortly to go over the ultrasound with me and we should just get started.

I said I’d rather wait until I could see what we were looking for. #10 left the room and returned with the radiologist, sans X-rays .

At this point, I was told it was unnecessary to see the X-rays, as they didn’t show anything conclusive. The ultrasound was ordered because of my family history.

What? Why did I have the second mammogram? How much was this going to cost? Is this just more “procedure” to jack up the price? Who can I talk to about this?

I gave up. I was in no emotional state to argue anymore. I felt like I had no control over my medical choices, no rights as a patient, was mad with no outlet — and felt helpless as hell. I cried unabashedly throughout the entire ultrasound.

In the end, I did receive a clean bill of health. Hopefully I’ll be finished fighting my insurance company before I have to go through this again next year.

They’ve declined to cover every bit of this.



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34 thoughts on “Attack of the 1000 Dollar Mammogram”

  1. I had a lump checked yesterday and after being tortured in a vice grip with large paddles and small ones I was left with a three inch tear under my breast. They said “Oh it happens sometimes!” Needless to say I am going to call a lawyer and see if they will learn to treat their clients better!

    1. Oh Lyddia – that’s terrible. I’ve always thought that it feels like something like that could happen, it must hurt so bad! Have you gotten the results about the lump? Sending you all my best wishes. -Veronica

  2. Glad everything turned out okay. The stress is awful.

    Here in Canada, I went through a similar experience, but had to wait *weeks* between first mammogram, second mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, and results. I would have paid to cut that wait a lot shorter!

    1. The stress of the wait certainly doesn’t help! The time between my first and second visit was terrible – I had worked myself into quite a state. Not sure what the hospital’s policies are about doing an ultrasound the same day under normal circumstances. Maybe they did it in my case so they could just quickly finish up and be done with the crazy crying lady!

  3. Oh what a horrible experience.I wondered if you were there by youreslf?Goood news that all was well but why do they not keep us fully informed about how and why ,its beyond belief.I did a post about my experiences with mammogramme and some of the comments were a bit similar to your experience.It’s called One For The Girls if you wish to read it. I just the all clear letter back for mine and in the UK you are recalled every three years after the age of fifty and it’s free on the NHS.

  4. Medical staff can be so insensitive and cruel at times. I was a tech in the heart department and I insisted on meeting the patients outside of the lab for that very reason. Treating people like humans instead of animals is so important and kind. Sigh!

    I am really sorry. Really sorry that your mom died so painfully, that you had to endure watching that and that they are not paying your bill. No surprised! Just hurt for you.

    Big hugs! Big big hugs!

  5. You are F-in’ kiddin’ me! The insurance declined! Ooh, I’m so mad for you I want to take all the boobs at the insurance (man and woman) and mash them in your honor.

    BTW, I’m researching something right now involving Maple syrup and non-aluminum baking powder as a helpful treatment for the big C. Check it out. Sounds too simple and effective–which would explain why no one in western medicine would give it the time of day.

    Praying for you. So sorry to hear what you went through with your mom. She sounds like an incredible lady and I’m sure she would be proud of you fighting for your health–and your rights.


    Chana K.

    1. @Chana Hahaha! THAT has to be the most original honoring I’ve ever received! Thanks for making me laugh at this whole ridiculous situation!

      Looking on eBay for an old mammogram machine now…

  6. I tend to opt for self-examination and going to a natural/homeopathic doc. For the most part, I think western medicine sucks. Why do you think they call it “medical PRACTICE.” And, sorry for your horrible experience. Makes one feel sorry for cows, eh?

  7. There is a new method where you lean over into a cup but… not widespread. Not had one yet, accompanied a friend about twenty years ago and have been dreading it ever since! lol Have an irrational feeling they could start cancer off with all the squishing. Am 51 and waiting for my call-up, will ring doctor if I don’t hear soon.

  8. I will be 46 this weekend and just had my 1st mammogram last month. Part of it was fear, and embaressment. The technician was wonderful and very matter-of-fact about the procedure, very nice and chatty, and it didn’t even really hurt. I did have to go back for a second look and that was a little more painful as they pressed a little tighter, and had to have a ultrasound. Again, very matter-of-fact, not big deal that your breasts are exposed and they are prodding around. I think it is worth asking around your area to find out who has had a good experience. I won’t be afraid to schedule an annual appointment now.

  9. Oh, how I wish you could go to the hospital where I have my mammograms. In 20+ years, I have never dealt with a crabby person there. I see two people: the receptionist and the technician. The radiologist talks to you immediately if you ask to see him/her. And, yes, I still hate mammograms. Good luck with your insurance battle. I’m betting on you to win that one.

  10. I don’t care how costly or painful I am faithful about it. When you have a history in your family….I just don’t even think about it. I take 4 ibuprofin an hour before, take a deep breath (literally) and go get it done. I make my appointment from year to year. So if you need to find me one knows where I will be the last week of june every year at least for the past 15!!!!! and Good Lord willing this next June and many more

  11. And they wonder why more and more women have stopped getting mammograms. The experience and the cost are the two top reasons. Thanks for sharing and good luck next year!

  12. I personally don’t think it is a big deal, but I do think a man created it and until we have penisogrophy things probably won’t change 😉

    1. Oh Renita I’m with ya girls. I have long said that when they do come up with that penisography, I’m goin’ back to school to get a degree in Radiology Tech ’cause I wanna be the one squeezin’ those plates down. LOL

  13. Veronica – After reading this blog, and what your Mom went through, I thought I would try to put a different light on it.

    I’m a 4 year cancer survivor – went through the whole enchilada – and looking back I realize that there were no choices except to fight that horrid disease.

    I wrote 2 blog posts about the details- below —

    As for the mammogram- you should have walked out—there are some clinics that are very kind and let you see exactly what they are looking at as they work—(yes it hurts- I took a pain pill before going). (If you ever happen to be in San Antonio and need one let me know I’ll refer you to a good one).

    Big Congrats on a Clean Bill of Health —peace&luv joyce
    twitter id jgoden

    The Privilege of Growing Old

    Get a Mammogram

  14. I can tell you that it is not always that way. At our facility it would never be like that. A mammo should be a spleasant an experience as possible concidering what is involved. I am sorry your experience was so horrible

  15. I had my very first mammo last year (I’m 56 and it is experiences like that of the GypsyNester that kept me from it). In any event, I too used a digital mammography facility. I was very, VERY fortunate that the test was clear. The mammo tech also showed me the pictures right then and there. I will reschedule my annual exam for next month. And btw, my mammo costs $175.

  16. Not gonna pretend to know what thats like but your the 3rd one of my gal friends to have that procedure done in the last month and all have found the process beyond uncomfortable. One even passed out.

  17. My momalso died of BC so I know your anxiety. She had a year of really bad, with spreading to lymph nodes, bone and brain. Where I go they have switched to digital. If more pic. Are needed, they do it right then. They tell me on the spot what is going on. So far all has been good. I know the feeling waiting for the shoe to drop

  18. I’m constantly amazed at how women techs can be so thoughtless while performing mammograms. Really?!?!?! What – is it like some form of hazing ritual for them or what? “I had it rough and awful so you will too” kind of mentality. Blech!!!! It should be such a compassionate for such an intimate and painful procedure. Never is though it’s always – “Next!”

  19. Just a couple of months after my mother died of breast cancer, my very similar ordeal went as far as being sent to the surgeon. I wrote all about my near miss with breast cancer in my blog The entry entitled “My Turn.” Itis an excerpt from my book “Mom’s on the Roof and I Can’t Get Her Down.”

    The following story is in the sequel to that book. “My Armor My Life” will be @ AMAZON come fall. This is an except:

    Going in for my yearly, routine mammogram, I always try to be the first patient of the day because they don’t allow deodorant until after the exam. It’s the worst day for me because my mother died of breast cancer, and it always feels as if the doctors and their staff members expect to find it in me. After mom passed, I had a few scary mammogram results that luckily turned out to be false positives.

    During one particular screening, a few years after my mother’s death, the technician readied the equipment flipping in her first slide before crushing me, which adds to my stress. As she pushed her button to add pressure, all of a sudden, we heard a loud pop like a backfire of a car or a gun shot.

    In that moment, the plastic framing on the film holder exploded under the machine’s pressure. The technician recognized the sound pushing the back off sequence quickly. “Is anything hurt?”

    By time I looked at the broken slide and my exposed breast, laughter ensued emanating from me, “Yes, I’ll live.”

    Soon, many people flew to the door including her boss. The place was ‘a buzz’ with what went wrong as one girl admitted that the accident may be her fault. She nervously explained, “I knew the slide holder looked as if it might collapse on the next patient but forgot to remove it or inform anyone!” She explained, “I thought I’d beat the patients in this morning and detach the defective, plastic device before anyone used it.” She left the area escorted by a group of colleagues including my technician.

    While they told the boss about the mistake, I bantered with the staff members taking turns asking me if I felt okay, “I broke the camera. You hear about that possibility but I actually busted it!”

  20. Sorry you had to go through that. It’s bad enough without adding in insensitive medical personnel–glad the end news was good.

  21. I prefer the “kinder, gentler” exam. It’s called a Thermogram. There are only about 30 places in the country that administer them but if we raise awareness of the travesty of the current “revered” system of Mammography I’ll bet more Health Conscious Doctors will offer this sane method of Detection. Here’s a paper written by the Authority on Thermograms. I haven’t read it in it’s entirety, but when I lived in Detroit, he administered my exam. Google the term Thermography and see if this doesn’t make MUCH more sense.

    Your breasts will thank you.

    PS. The Michigan Cancer Foundation used to use this method in the 80’s, they quit because the determined that they were not getting accurate readings. It turns out that their technicians were NOT following proper methodology, therefore the problem. Geeez!

  22. {{{}}} Those are big hugs! What an awful experience for you. Like areil36, I have learned that it is extremely helpful to have a friend with you. I learned that when my mother reached her 70s’ and then 80s’ and the doctors started dismissing all of her complaints to old age. In the end, even with my efforts, she died of undetected heart disease. I think there is a new career out there for “personal patient advocates” but where would the paycheck come from. Maybe the insurance companies if the advocating kept costs down – as in your case where it seems you didn’t need the mamo if they were going to perform the ultrasound either way. Certainly the patients can’t afford to pay a private advocate. Maybe it’s a non profit type of thingy that would funded.
    Your mother was a beautiful woman and you were both so fortunate to have each other.

  23. Gosh how awful! I went through a week of waiting for 2nd mammo appointment this year for same reason and since I have a sister with lung cancer and a brother with possible colon cancer, I also refused to leave until I was reassured by the radiologist that this 2nd test, point compression or something like that, was OK.
    Sure to them it was but they actually split my skin open beneath my breast from pulling so hard that they had to clean and put a dressing on the area. Ouch.

    I think men need a better test than a prostate exam with one finger. I think they need a penigram squishing them to severe pain and then the Dr.will Dicktate the results after he erects your file and penetrates his brain with your scan images! The results will then be put on a floppy disc for your Dr. to look over and let you know that everything is great but was difficult to see on scan due to his small size and that the test needs to be repeated and if he refuses his insurance will penalize him and not pay the bills!

  24. Sorry you went through all that. After going through multiple rounds of infertility treatments (unsuccessfully), I have learned that the best way to do things is to bring another person with you and to fire doctors who do not take you seriously. I had a precursor to uterine cancer, my obgyn told me over the phone and said a needed a total and complete hysterectomy. She then gave me the name of a gyn-oncologist (who started her career as a veterinarian) to contact to perform the treatment. Needless to say, obgyn was fired, I did some research, chose my own gyn-onc (who is a real sweetheart and who does research on treatments for uterine cancer and its precursors- after all, I wasn’t going to someone who would want to “spay” me without any discussion), she agreed to do a D&C before the hysterectomy to “stage” the supposed pre-cancerous condition, and, lo and hehold, no cancer was found. I have been treated with progesterone ever since, and all endometrial biopsies and scans (in fact, during my latest round of uterine scans, the tech and the radiologists and I discussed the findings as they were performing the scans – thickness of the lining, shape of the uterus, conditions of the ovaries, follicles, etc.) have come back clean – no sign of cancer. And, her office actually manages to bill the insurance company correctly so I do not have the fights I know all too well about (yes, I actually had infertility and acupuncture coverage – getting paid for it was another matter).

    Ask your friends and gyn for references to caring places to do mammograms – they are around. And so are smart, caring techs and doctors who will actually treat their patients with respect and discuss their issues with them.

    Perhaps in your case, it may help to build up a bit of empathy with your techs before hand and tell them briefly about your mother, the scare you have had in the past, and that waiting without knowing is the worst thing for you and that you need to speak to the doc then.

    Good luck next year, and I am glad all the test came back well.

    As for fighting with yoru health insurance company, please check out these websites:

    If your coverage is from a large company that is self-employed, go to your HR department for help.

    Sorry, I don’t know much about Medicare if that’s what you are on.

  25. Oh my goodness, what an ordeal you had to go through! People can be so rude!
    Glad to hear everything came back good though!
    Good luck with the insurance company!

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