Breast Exams 101 (from a Survivor!)

 

About the Author: Beth Cooper is a small-town girl from south-central Illinois. She has been happily married since 1999, has three little Mini Coopers, ages 7, 3, and 1, that keep her very busy and make her laugh.

 

Nobody wants to think about breast cancer.  It’s a scary subject, right?  Okay, how many of you do a monthly breast self-exam, raise your hand?  That’s what I thought!  There are a lot of you who aren’t doing them.  Come on ladies!  Let’s get to know our breasts a little better!

We go out of our way to make sure our kids are safe – we read safety reviews for carseats and strollers, we make sure we buckle them properly, we try to feed them healthy foods (well, at least most of the time), and we take them to the doctor if needed.  The truth is that we would do anything to keep our kids healthy and safe but as moms, we sometimes neglect ourselves.  A breast self-exam only takes a few minutes once a month and can save your life. It saved mine.

I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  I was stunned.  I was 34 years old at the time.  I have no family history of breast cancer and I have three small children who really need their mommy.  It was very surreal to hear the doctor tell me that one word, “cancer.”  After four months of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy with complete reconstruction, I am very happy to say that I no longer have cancer!  But, I don’t think I could have beaten it as easily as I did if it weren’t for early detection.  I found the lump myself, in the shower, less than a year after I stopped breastfeeding my youngest child.  The lump was not painful, was deep in the breast tissue, and had definitely not been there when I was breastfeeding.  To be honest though, I had not been doing monthly self-exams.  It was just a fluke that I decided to do one the day I found the lump.  I wasn’t sure how long it had been there but after two days of thinking about it, I decided to make a doctor’s appointment.  About a week later, after a mammogram, an ultrasound of the breast, and a biopsy, I was told that it was cancer.  If I hadn’t found that lump, I am confident that it would be months and months later until I would have found out that I had cancer.  Who knows when, or even if I would have done a self-exam.  I had no plans for a doctor’s appointment any time soon.  Without that self-exam, I believe that my cancer would have grown and spread before it was detected.  Thankfully, it had not spread to anywhere else in my body when I found it.

So now, my advice to everyone is to do a self-exam and get your mammograms!  I was always told that I didn’t need to start getting mammograms until I turned 40.  I had no family history of breast cancer so it wasn’t recommended for me to get one.  I am not a doctor (take this as simply mom-to-mom advice) but I think the recommended age for a mammogram should be age 30 even if there is no family history.  I think it would save a lot of lives.  And by the way, mammograms don’t hurt and just make you a teensy bit uncomfortable.  Chances are if you have had a kid, the mammogram is going to seem like a walk in the park.

Self-exams are easy and quick.  The shower is a great place to do it, but you can also do it looking in the mirror, or lying on a bed.  And don’t trust your husband to do it for you! J   Hopefully no lumps will be found and you will have a nice baseline to go by, so that if any lumps ever do appear you will realize immediately that it hadn’t been there before.

Breast Exam

Here are some things to remember when doing a self-exam:

  • Check all the way to your underarms and in them, all sides of the breasts, underneath the breasts, and also all the way up to your collarbone.
  • Gently check your entire breast using small circular motions.  Then, apply more pressure and feel a little deeper the second time.  The third time, apply even more pressure and feel the breast’s deep tissue.  Repeat with the second breast.
  • Lumps can be big or small.  Mine felt like a cherry tomato.  Others might feel like a frozen pea.  They can be any size.
  • Using a mirror, check for swelling, soreness, rash, dimpling of the skin, warmth, redness, darkening, discharge from the nipple, or basically any change at all from your normal.
  • Keep a journal of any changes that you find and go to the doctor if you find something different from your normal.
  • Keep in mind that our breasts do change with our hormones.  It’s a good idea to do your self-exam at the same time of the month each month.
  • 80% of breast lumps are not cancer.
  • 40% of breast cancer is found by self-exam.
  • Only about 5% to 10% of breast cancers are inherited.

So, ladies, let’s start doing those breast self-exams!  Take a few minutes each month to do something worthwhile for yourself.  You deserve it.

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1 Comment on "Breast Exams 101 (from a Survivor!)"

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MammaCare
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Very true, Beth! Parents often neglect themselves. Early detection through self-breast exams is an important message that we preach. Your fingers are highly capable. They just need a little training. Women need to know the difference between normal lumps and cancerous lumps.

Great story! We will be sharing it!

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