October is breast cancer awareness month. I know this because I’ve seen it sprawled all over my social media in the last few days. So I figured that this month was a good time to talk about boobs. I see a lot about cupcakes and high teas during October, but I hardly ever see links about breast exams. Or how to do your own breast exam. I’m sure that by now we all know that breast cancer is a thing. But do you know how often you should be doing your own breast exams? When and how to do it? What to look out for? After my own scare a few years ago, I thought I’d change focus on this blog, and get a little pragmatic about breast cancer.
My Story About A Lump
I’m going to call it a precautionary tale and I’m going to try to keep it brief. Once upon a time as a young twenty-something-year-old I ran into my new doctor’s office for a new script for my oral contraceptives.
“When was the last time you had a breast exam done” he asked. The truth was never. I was 22 at the time. Breast cancer was not something I was at all concerned with. My doctor explained that drinking oral contraceptives meant that I was a little more at risk than usual. Especially considering that I had started using ‘The Pill’ for health reasons when I was 15. He went on to explain that if I did happen to get breast cancer at a young age, it tends to be rather aggressive. So early detection is key. Key for early detection is monthly self examination and to get checked up by your doctor annually.
Two years later I found a lump while doing a self-examination. I raced to my doctor immediately. My usual doctor wasn’t in, so I saw another doctor in the practice. She examined me and my lump and asked if I had a history of breast cancer in my family. l didn’t.
She said that the lump didn’t feel malignant, and that without a history of breast cancer in my family I shouldn’t worry about it. I asked if I should do anything further, she pursed her lips a little:
“If you REALLY want to, you can go have an ultrasound done”.
She made me feel silly for going in, and for being worried. I decided not to go for the ultrasound.
I went back to my usual doctor when I had the flu a few months later. When he saw the notation in my records he asked me about the results of the ultrasound. I told him what had transpired. He sent me off for an ultrasound that very afternoon. The doctor who performed the ultrasound told me that he was about 90% sure that the lump was benign, but they did a biopsy anyway. Right there. I received the test results a few days later, saying that the lump was not cancerous (its a fibroadenoma) and that I needed to come in once a year to have it scanned and checked out.
Know to check your boobs, and how to do it
I was lucky that my lump wasn’t cancerous. But picking up on it as quickly as I did was because my doctor had impressed upon me the importance of doing a self breast exam every month.
First of all, you should get to know what your breasts look and feel like. The point is that you need to know when something looks or feels different, so become aware of your body. Because breasts tend to change according to menstrual cycles and hormones, the best time to perform your breast exam is usually a few days after your period has finished.
As I am not the expert, CLICK HERE to see Breastcancer.org’s five steps to do a self-breast exam. Then do it diligently, once a month. And get to know your body.
If you think you are too young for breast cancer and breast exams…
Nope. No. None of it. Being young meant that I was a little daunted by the idea of having my doctor perform a breast exam the first time. No one had really spent any amount of time there yet at that stage of my life. And I figured that things such as mammograms were for when you are over 40. But if your doctor is professional it shouldn’t be an issue. If you feel uncomfortable with a male doctor, then go to a woman. Remember it’s their job. Although I do keep eye contact to a minimum during the examination.
Did the biopsy hurt?
I was lucky that I wasn’t forewarned so I didn’t have time to stress about it. As I sat in the chair having the ultrasound done the doctor made the decision to do the biopsy immediately. I started to panic at the idea of a needle and I think I broke out in my usual red spots. When the doctor noticed that I had suddenly turned into a spotted version of my former self, he quickly reassured me that the procedure wouldn’t hurt. Honestly, for me, it didn’t.
For the histopathology (checking out what the tissue is under a microscope) only a few cells are needed. So the needle is really really thin. I barely felt anything. I will say that I was bruised and a little sensitive that evening. But I still managed to spend two hours doing rigorous Taekwondo training. Running, jumping, kicking and all that.
So why am I blogging about my boobs?
Firstly, hopefully this will start a conversation. Before I had my own lump I had never spoken to my mom about it. If I had, I would have known that the women in our family have a history of having fibroadenoma. So ask your mom. Be informed about your family history. The other reason, is that maybe someone will read this before going through what I went through and know a little more about what to expect.
When I went through this whole process only my then boyfriend, now husband, and my mom knew. I didn’t want to tell anyone before I knew what was going on and have them worry too. Afterwards, I didn’t really have news to share. I had an “almost event”, and from the beginning I was told that I am low-risk. Now I go in once a year to have an ultrasound done. The doctor just checks that my lump isn’t doing anything that it shouldn’t, and to make sure that I don’t have any new lumps that are problematic. The fibroadenoma cannot change into anything else, but we are just checking that it isn’t obscuring anything else. If it does grow and become uncomfortable they will remove it.
In retrospect, I was lucky to have an amazing doctor. A doctor who warned me, and made sure that I was ok. I’m sharing this so that if someone else ever goes through the same thing they have a little more information than I had. Or maybe just know that it didn’t just happen to them.