Oct 18 2010

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

It’s October, and that has been declared Breast Cancer Awareness Month by the Powers That Be who declare such things.  I’d like to ask something of my Fearless Readers.

No, I don’t think you need to go out and buy pink ribbons, pink t-shirts, pink shopping bags, or really anything pink that you wouldn’t have already purchased.  Nor do I think you need to make a donation to a cancer organization, or walk for a cure, or adopt cutesy slogans about saving ta-tas.  (If you feel moved on your own volition to do any or all of the above, do so … but you won’t hear me asking for it. And please, do your research before handing hard-earned money over, not every organization is efficient at getting donations to the research and patient help that they claim to do.)

What I am asking for this year is that all females reading this commit to giving themselves breast exams at least monthly.   Those few of you who are already in this habit, take a moment to pat yourselves on the back. (and don’t forget to keep it up!)  Before any excuses begin from the rest of you, here are answers to the most common objections.

I don’t know how to do it right — If your annual physician check-up is sometime soon, then get them to show you the proper way, and practice it a few times so you won’t forget.  If it’s not upcoming and you’re local, set up a meeting with me and I’ll show you how.  If neither of these options apply, ask around of trusted friends:  at least one of them is likely to know how even if they don’t practice regularly.  Finally, here’s a handy list from the internet if all your friends are similarly clueless: 5 Steps of a Breast Self-Exam

I feel weird/uncomfortable/embarrassed about it — Obviously, cancer is way more uncomfortable than giving yourself a breast exam, on both physical and psychological levels.  Sometimes our emotional brains don’t listen to such logic, and then you have to create some brain hacks.  Do you have a significant other?  Make a deal with he or she to do your monthly breast exam for you (it’s up to you to decide what to negotiate in exchange).  No S.O.?  What about a female friend who similarly feels weird, with whom you can exchange moral support?  If no other people are available, are you more of a “carrot” or a “stick” motivator?  Figure out some goad or reward for doing your exam that will work for your hindbrain.  I’d say just lie back and think of England while you check, but you should probably be thinking of more flat terrain with less mounds and bumps during a time like that.

I forget about it — Check your life for a semi-regular activity that you could associate your breast exam with.  Are you a church-goer?  Give yourself a quick check before getting dressed on church day.  Menstruating?  the last day of your period or the day after might work.  Monthly pedicure?  perhaps after you get home from that relaxing footbath.  Keep a calendar of events or daily planner?  Schedule it in every month and prioritize it like you would any important meeting.  I’ve even heard of someone posting a breast exam chart up in their shower so they had to look at it each time they showered.

I can’t tell what I’m feeling in there — Breast tissue isn’t homogeneous, and some women can have cystic breasts or other lumpy-feeling tissue that is normal and benign.  Honestly, the best way to compensate for this really is to do your exam regularly, and use the same pattern of motions each time.  After a few sessions, you’ll begin to get a real sense of your particular “normal” breast environment.  Then you’re only looking for changes in that standard environment from exam to exam, and you don’t have to worry about every tiny pebbly thing that’s been there for years.  And of course, if you find something even remotely questionable, don’t ignore it in the hopes that it will go away.  Go to your doctor (or a Planned Parenthood or walk-in clinic if you don’t have a doctor) and get someone to double check the area for you.  It’s not worth carrying around extra worry about such things, find out!

And finally, if you have anyone in your family who developed breast, ovarian, or uterine cancer before age 45, please consider getting genetically tested for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations. They’re only responsible for about 5% of all breast cancers but they are some of the more potentially deadly, as well as affecting a much larger age demographic.  There are many more health options available to someone who tests positive BEFORE they develop a cancer than there are after cancer has already shown up.  Most insurances will cover the test especially if you can cite a family member who had the disease, and the last price I heard quoted was around $600 if you don’t have insurance.

Guys, it IS possible for men to get breast cancer — most often through one of the genetic mutations mentioned above.  If you have a family member with a breast cancer mutation, please get tested as well.  And while you’re at it, here’s a handy and informative link for testicular checks; just because breast cancer gets all the funding these days doesn’t mean that other cancers aren’t just as problematic.

Please share this with the important people in your life, and feel free to re-link or comment and ask me any questions I didn’t cover here.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Breast Cancer Awareness Month”

  1. Britton 18 Oct 2010 at 1:15 pm

    I was just informed by a friend that comcast on-demand has a self exam tutorial.

  2. Mary Basson 18 Oct 2010 at 7:28 pm

    If you are already doing regular breast exams, as Reesa said, “pat yourself on the back” and I say, also pat yourself on the boobs. LOL

  3. Cheryl McLayon 18 Oct 2010 at 7:49 pm

    This article is written for teens, showing that it’s never too early for women to start breast self-exam. I teach girls that once they have them (boobs), they should check them regularly. It is unlikely that a teen will have breast cancer, but they should start getting comfortable checking themselves and being able to notice if something has changed. I also tell them that when they check their own breasts- a week after their period, the first day of the month, the same day as their birthday, whatever they can remember- they should remind their mothers to check their own as well. Buddy systems work!


    The worst thing people can do is ignore the whole idea, refuse to think about breast cancer, pretend that it can’t happen. My OB/Gyn told me about a college roommate who wouldn’t answer the phone when her doctor called with her Pap results because she didn’t want to ever hear bad news. That type of attitude can kill a person! We must talk about these things. We must pay attention to our own bodies. Fear is the real enemy.