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  • Amber Sexton

​Mammograms from a Wheelchair

Updated: Mar 26

A white woman with blond hair smiling at the camera and wearing a red blouse

Mammogram…. The word alone can erase the smile from most women’s faces. The idea of some stranger seeing bare skin, invading your personal space, and squishing and positioning your breasts into some giant machine is not my idea of fun. When you add paralysis, a wheelchair, and the inability to stand, even more hesitations arise.

As a long-time paraplegic, I wondered for years how a mammogram would work with my disability. Now, two years into the recommended age range and after friendly reminders from my primary care physician, I have been surprisingly impressed at the accessibility of my mammography procedures.

When I scheduled my mammogram, I made no mention of my disability. Although this is not advised, I am a rebel and like to keep people on their toes, and I also know that my chart in my healthcare system notes that I am unable to stand. Unfortunately, many women with and without disabilities, especially those in rural areas, don’t have proper access to healthcare, but I am fortunate enough to live in a metropolitan area where I rarely have accessibility issues with my care.

As I rolled into the office, the radiology staff seemed unfazed as they escorted me to an accessible changing room, gave me a locker within my reach, and offered my assistance with changing. Once I was in the room with the machine, I was surprised at the technician’s “no big deal” attitude toward my injury. She seemed to have done this before. The mammogram machine was pulled down and around my wheelchair with ease. The machine and technician engulfed my personal space as she pinched, plopped, and squeezed away. Twenty minutes and several deep breaths later, it was all over. While I was getting dressed, the radiologist reviewed my images, gave me the “all clear,” and sent me out the door. I felt a refreshing sense of relief.

Sadly, the ideology that cancer will not strike someone with a spinal cord injury is bogus. Having an SCI doesn’t provide you with a get-out-of-jail card for other diseases, especially breast cancer. I understand many of us are preoccupied and often overwhelmed with other health ailments, but yearly breast cancer screenings can be lifesaving. I look at it this way… I have survived too much to let something preventable take me out. We lose too many incredible women each year to breast cancer, and I will do everything in my power not to be one of them.

Even though I’ve only had two screenings in my life, I’ve already found that a year sneaks up on you. If possible, schedule your next annual appointment before you leave so that it is on your calendar and availability is not an issue. I like to reward my diligence in having a mammogram done by scheduling a massage or stopping for an indulgent treat on the way home. Scheduling your next appointment on the same day as a relative or friend can improve the experience and can be a great way to make the mammogram less dreadful.

I hope my positive experience with my mammogram encourages other women with disabilities to schedule their breast screenings. If you have been avoiding your dreaded mammogram and using accessibility as an excuse not to get one, this is your sign to make the call and schedule this important procedure.

Amber Sexton, 42, was paralyzed in an automobile accident in 1996 at the age of 15. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and 12-year-old son. She is a peer mentor at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, a marketing consultant, and a patient advocate. Amber enjoys traveling, gardening, and spending time with her pets and loved ones.


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