Melrose Free Press

Oct. 2, 2012

By Jessica Sacco

Hallmark Health is changing the face of mammograms. In an effort to reduce the fear women have about their first mammogram, Medford’s Main Street Medical Center recently transformed into a spa, offering hand and chair massages, refreshments and hors d’oeuvres for “Meet. Mingle. Mammogram.”

The event is in its second year and is part of a $40,000 grant from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Massachusetts Affiliate awarded to Hallmark Health this year.

“Breast health is really overall health,” said Judy Sadacca, outreach manager for imaging and endovascular services. “It’s really not about just having a mammogram. It’s about how to take care of yourself.”

Hallmark hopes to encourage women who have never had a mammogram to come in for the procedure by offering them a relaxing atmosphere before and after the process.

Each “Meet. Mingle. Mammogram.” event is designed to target a specific ethnicity. On Sept. 27, a variety of women gathered at the medical center for a night directed at the Latina population.

Beginning at 5:30 p.m., women dined on a variety of empanadas, munched on vegetable sticks with dip and treated themselves to an assortment of cookies and chocolate.

Hand and chair massages were stationed throughout the room for guests to experience before and after their mammogram, which many women eagerly indulged in.

The ladies present were invited to talk with the breast health educator, Linda Leis, to learn about self-breast exams, diet, nutrition and were even offered a set of healthy recipes.

At the end of the night, all the women walked away with a free swag bag, full of information about breast health, a first aid kit, emery boards and hand cream, chocolate and more.

Women tell all

The 20 ladies who attended last Wednesday evening’s mammogram event seemed at ease as they sat and talked with friends and family. In fact, Sadacca said many stayed to socialize and be pampered well into the evening.

“They don’t leave after they have a mammogram,” she said. “They sit around and they chat. They want to interact with other women. So it really is a girl’s night out for them. “

Best friends since kindergarten, Kim Doherty and Rose Bamford, both Malden residents, decided come to the medical center for their first mammogram.

“We just turned 40 so we’re getting mammograms together,” said Doherty. “It’s going to be our birthday ritual.”

Both Bamford and Doherty agreed the procedure was not what they had originally expected.

“It wasn’t what I thought it would be,” said Doherty. “I thought they would squish it until milk came out.”

Bamford added it was good to have someone to go with for the initial mammogram, as she had more fear in her mind about the procedure, than it actually happening.

“The hardest part was holding my breath,” she joked. “I was like ‘I have to breathe!’”

Chelsea resident Windy Rodriguez came after hearing someone she knew was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“She just came out of chemotherapy,” she said. “It’s a scary thought.”

After completing her first mammogram, Rodriguez was confident she would return annually.

“I will come back every year and do it,” she said. “Everything was so nice, they make you feel really comfortable.”

Sisters and Medford residents Joan Banks and Luzelbia Rodriguez also spent the evening at the health center, munching on appetizers, receiving massages and having their mammograms.

This is Banks’ second time coming to “Meet. Mingle. Mammogram.” and as a woman who’s had several mammograms throughout the years, she said the procedure is something you get used to after a few times.

“It helps you know that if anything is wrong, they can catch it early enough,” she added “You want to know early and not sit there and have something that isn’t curable.”

Rodriguez, like many of the other women at the center, expected the procedure to be painful, but with encouragement from her sister, decided to receive her first mammogram.

“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” she said. “I have four kids.”

Behind the procedure

Women are recommended to get baseline mammogram at 35 years old, and then annually once they’ve reached 40. Those with immediate family history (mother, sister) should have a mammogram 10 year’s before the relative’s diagnosis.

During a mammogram, a mammographer completes four images, two for each breast (one from the top and one from the side).

One at a time, a woman’s breast is compressed in an x-ray machine for eight to 10 seconds.

The process, mammographer Audrey Murphy said, is quick and not as uncomfortable in years pass, due to the digital machine, which almost instantly displays the results.

“I would say, 95 percent of women end up leaving and saying, ‘Wow, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,’” she said. “It’s well worth having. You can check it off your list and move on.”

Every participant of a “Meet. Mingle. Mammogram.” event will receive either a letter stating no follow up is needed or a call for a return visit, after the x-rays are examined by a radiologist.

Yearly mammograms are important, Murphy added, because it allows doctors to address any changes that may have arisen. However, she said women’s breasts are altering all the time, and the differences are not necessarily problematic.

“We are looking for changes,” Murphy explained. “For something that may be abnormal. Not every change is a bad thing, but every change warrants an investigation.”

Murphy stressed annual mammograms increase the possibility of catching cancer before it becomes unmanageable.

“You can’t bury your head in the sand,” she said. “You need to come in and have your mammogram so if there is something wrong, we can increase your odds of survival.”

Also, Murphy said, mammograms don’t pick up 10 percent of breast cancers, meaning women need to be proactive about noticing changes in their breasts.

“Mammograms are wonderful, they’re saving lives,” she said. “But they’re not the end all. You need to do breast exams yourself, you need to see your doctor. You have to be aggressive as a patient to make sure you get some of those things done.”

Hallmark Health System will hold two Meet Mingle Mammogram events in the coming months in Medford at 101 Main St. on the following dates: Nov. 7 for Haitian women and Jan. 23 for Asian women. Others are welcome to attend, however. Registration is required by calling 800-540-9191.

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