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What Hurts More Than a Mammogram?

Kim Fuller | Vail Health Magazine

We know there's no substitute for inner beauty. But when it comes to the external variety women are well schooled in the “no pain no gain” philosophy. Whether it's huffing and puffing through a spin class or seeing stars during a bikini wax beauty takes work. And no small amount of practice either.

So why do so many women put off or avoid getting potentially life-saving mammograms? Discomfort? Awkwardness?

Last year breast cancer survivor Geralyn Lucas visited Vail as the featured speaker at the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group's 19th annual Celebration of Life luncheon and she asked that very question.  At 27 Lucas found a lump during a breast self-exam — earlier than most would expect. "I thought I had to be 40 or my mom had to have breast cancer. I was wrong" Geralyn says.

Eighteen years down the road Lucas is committed to spreading awareness about the importance of early detection. She teamed up with ABC News' Sara Haines with an inspired idea: On camera the duo wandered through New York City subjecting themselves to various activities in the name of beauty and compared them to the pain and discomfort of getting a mammogram.

Such a good story inspired a local version. Local veterinary technician Cathy Wetzel has two sisters-in-law who have fought breast cancer. Both are survivors due in part to early detection. Her paternal grandmother had a double mastectomy in the early 1980s so she has a personal interest in the message. She volunteered to help recreate the story and photographer Dominique Taylor caught it all with her camera. The upshot? As far as pain goes mammograms don't have anything on high heels.

Wearing High Heels
Pain level 5 after 5 hours and then unbearable

A vet tech at Vail Valley Animal Hospital Wetzel doesn't wear heels at work. She has to move quickly and efficiently on a semi-slick floor so they don't make sense for her. But in the spirit of taking one for the team she gave it a go. She chose a pair about three inches high with a thin heel. "It makes everything feel out of line and miserable” she says. “It hurt during the day but at night I went home and I ended up getting cramps in my feet." After her lunch break she couldn't bear to wear them anymore.  “It sucked” she says. “I won't lie it wasn't fun. “

Pain level 1-2

At the acupuncturist Wetzel had needles inserted into her face her arms and down the right side of her body in hopes of triggering some healing in the neck elbows and shoulders. "I have had acupuncture before and some of the needles really hurt when they put them in but usually they only hurt for like 20 or 30 seconds” she says. “You can still feel them but they don't hurt anymore.” Wetzel loves the relaxed feeling post-acupuncture so she doesn't mind the mild sting of the needles.

Brow Waxing
Pain level 3.5

Though it's nothing like a bikini wax eyebrow waxing is still no picnic. "It's so quick” Wetzel says. “If it was something that you would have to sit and put up with for more than five minutes at a time then it would be bad.” The procedure might have been fast but the recovery took a little longer. “I was all red and puffy for the next five hours at work so
it was kind of funny” she says.

Pain level 4

Wetzel trucked down to Glenwood Springs for her first tattoo. She showed up with a picture of what she wanted. It ended up different than what she thought it would be but she likes it a lot. "It was really quick” she says. “He got it done in less than an hour...and that would be probably a 4 on the pain scale — not terrible. There are certain parts that hurt more like when he was doing the coloring in which hurt more than the outline. It's a sharp hurt similar to bee stings but a bunch of them." Wetzel's grandparents were apple farmers with 1000 acres of orchard and her mother who passed away 2 years ago had a house filled with apples. They were surrounded by apples and ate them every day. “So it's an apple at the top and it comes down like a heart” she says
about the tattoo. “I really like it.”

Pain level 3

Wetzel is in her 40s and she does self-breast exams often and gets mammograms routinely. To date she's had five. “I would so much rather hear the bad news earlier rather than later” says Cathy. “Hopefully I will never have to hear the bad news but it's so common there are a lot of women who I know in the valley who have or have had breast cancer.” Most mammograms take about 15 minutes to complete though the uncomfortable part is much faster. "It's a squeezing ... they do it very quickly” she says. “You're standing there for maybe a minute or two and getting squeezed but it's not bad." Wetzel likes the atmosphere at the Shaw. “The technicians are great and will talk
about anything to make you not think about
having your boob squeezed” she says.

Better Technology
The Shaw Regional Cancer Center's Sonnenalp Breast Center now
offers 3D Mammography

3D mammography takes images of breasts in a way that is similar to a CT (computed tomography) scan. Instead of a static image the 3D mammo takes images of the breasts in “slices” (think loaf of bread) so radiologists have more information.

“Like the pages of a book every page has more info on it” says Colleen Berga manager of the Sonnenalp Breast Center. “Having this technology reduces our rate of callbacks for additional testing and increases detectability rates.”

Shaw adheres to the American Cancer Society guidelines for mammography and recommends that women start mammo screenings at age 40 and every year thereafter.

If you have a strong family history of cancer and/or breast cancer you should start screening 10 years earlier than the age a family member was diagnosed (if you mother was diagnosed at 40 start your screening at 30).

Also see your physician if you have breast concerns or feel a lump experience nipple discharge skin appearance or texture change and/or unilateral breast pain.

Right now mammography is the “gold standard” for breast imaging Berga says at about 85 percent detection sensitive. If mammography is combined with breast ultrasounds the sensitivity increases to 90 to 95 percent.

To schedule an appointment for a mammogram call the Sonnenalp
Breast Center at (970) 569-7690.