This October, Pledge to Take Responsibility for Your Breast Health

This October, Pledge to Take Responsibility for Your Breast Health | Houston Moms Blog

It Felt Like The Worst Day Ever …

Last year, for the third time, I sat in a small waiting area, dressed in a pink top with gaping armpit holes, trying my best to cover the nonexistent area known as my chest. I’d been placed on the yearly mammogram with ultrasound list, which seemed to always end with an MRI with contrast. I would be put through the squishing, squashing, and squeezing process for the next fifteen minutes, sometimes stopping to ask, “Is everything okay? This seems longer than normal. I don’t remember my last two mammograms taking this long.”

The technician would assure me, over and over, that she was just being super careful. My tissue was so dense that she needed to see every possible angle.  They’d seen an atypical area the year before, and they needed to make sure it hadn’t changed size or shape, and now they had a new lump to look at … and I have a history of breast cancer in my family.

I sat in the waiting room again, sore and bruised, wishing for the moment I could schedule next year’s exam and leave.

A new technician came in. This one was more surly than the last, and she spent five minutes prepping me while complaining that every woman and their mother was coming in that week, so there must be some special on breast exams that she wasn’t aware of. I ignored her, wanting the process to be over, hoping for the moment when she cleared me to come back again the next year. Instead, she grew quiet. Clicking filled the silence as she tapped, clacked, and moved the wand around. Then she left the room.

Do Not Ignore the Lump …

I was 25 when I found my first lump. I have to admit, I had never done a proper home breast exam. I didn’t check every month, every year, or even every ten years. I couldn’t even tell you what they told me when I had my first mammogram and ultrasound {they always send me for an ultrasound … and those super fun MRIs with contrast}, but I didn’t follow their advice, even then, to get a yearly mammogram. Instead, I waited until I was 35, when I found another lump, when I put myself in the position to wonder “what if,” again … but this time I had a family to consider.

As women, we’ve been told to wait until we’re 40 {sometimes 50!} to check for lumps and bumps. Standard protocol has been to begin speaking to 40-49 year old women about getting their first mammogram, and encouraging them to get them every other year after. From what I’ve found, talking to friends and colleagues, by the time a woman is 40 and they diagnose breast cancer, it may be in the advanced stages of the disease. Forty, therefore, would be too late for a lot of women, so we must consider other options in order to have and keep an awareness about our breast health.

Lumps take on many forms. One of my lumps was hard, oblong, and painless. One of my lumps was a thick, painful area that covered over an inch in diameter. The last lump was hard and painful, but it did not have smooth margins. All of these lumps should not have been ignored, and every one of them, without a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI, could have been cancer.

Some lumps might feel like there is fluid in them. These could be cysts, which can happen at any age, and they usually occur near the end of a menstrual cycle {which is where self-awareness plays a key role!}. Other lumps might feel smooth, and they can be moved around, which could indicate they are benign. So should we ignore them? Nope!

Warnings signs for breast health, signs we should pay attention to, are any changes or abnormalities in the appearance of the breast. Dimpling of the breast, redness of the breast, inverted nipples, enlargement of one breast, leaking nipples, persistent pain, and a growing mass should always be examined by a professional as soon as possible.

How to Perform a Self-Exam …

Performing a home breast exam might be awkward at first, but because it is necessary for our overall health, we must complete one every month. Breastcancer.org has written “The Five Steps of a Breast Exam” which are summarized below. The easiest time to perform an exam is right after a shower, when the skin is slick.

1} Place your hands on your hips, and look at yourself in the mirror. Do your breasts look normal? Make sure there is no redness, dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin, and that your nipple has not changed position.

2} Raise your arms above your head and look for the same changes.

3} Look for any fluid leaking from the nipple area {watery, milky, yellowish, or bloody}. Obviously, if you’re actively breastfeeding, this step doesn’t apply!

4} Lay down, use your opposite hand to feel the entire surface of the breast with two or three fingers, keeping fingers flat and together, and pushing in small circles. {If you do this every month, you’ll begin to understand what “normal” and “abnormal” feels like!} Do this to both breasts.

5} Stand up and complete the same exam in Step 4.

I was lucky …

The moment the ultrasound technician left was one of the scariest moments of my life. She would come in, tap the screen, and leave again without acknowledging my presence. Around the time I realized I needed my mom, she burst through the doors and exclaimed, “Good news! It’s NOT cancer!”

I didn’t know whether to weep with fear or elation, but after I sorted through the maelstrom of emotions, I realized two things — I had followed my gut to get an abnormal lump examined, and had I ignored it until I was 40, she might have come back with a different story.

Other women’s stories are different. We know these women; we love these women. We have all been personally affected by breast cancer in some way. Our great-grandmothers, our grandmothers, our mothers, our aunts, our sisters, our daughters, and our friends have been impacted by this disease, and the only way to fight it early is to fight it early.

Moms, make this pledge with me: This October, for Breast Cancer Awareness, I pledge to perform a self-exam every month, and, should I find anything abnormal, I will get it checked out right away.

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