Friday, January 9, 2015

Published 10:00 AM by with 0 comment

Have You Done A Breast Self-Exam This Month?

What do lemons and boobies have in common? 

Nothing... except neither is perfect and both can be lumpy and bumpy. But looking at one can help you understand what might be unhealthy in the other. Lemons, amazingly enough, look a lot like breasts and can be useful visual aids to help understand breast health.

Checking your breasts regularly is important

Boobies, like lemons, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. We're not all symmetrical and perfect looking, despite what you may see on television and in the movies. Truth is... although some signs of breast cancer can be seen in changes to your breast, you can have non-perfect boobies and be healthy.

Let me repeat that:  You can have non-perfect boobies and be healthy.  You need to be aware of changes to your breast.

Watch for Changes 

We hear about breast cancer awareness all the time - especially in October. And most of us are aware that self-examination of our breasts is a good way to be proactive in caring for your breast health. The thing to keep in mind about checking your breasts regularly is that you're watching for changes to your breast.

If your breasts are fine and normal and there's never been anything odd or unusual to you about them, that's great. But if you've been checking them regularly - once a month or so - and you notice something different one month... now you have a reason to just make a mental note about the change.

You will need to keep an eye on any change in your breast (perhaps it feels hot to the touch, is reddened, is hard, or maybe there's a lump, or maybe the skin is dimpling, or perhaps there's a discharge from your nipple, etc.). If these changes don't go away after a few days or weeks, then you need to call your doctor and and have things checked out.

Tip:  Breast tissue goes through changes all the time. Your cycle affects the way that your breasts feel from day to day. So it is very important that you know what "your" breast tissue feels like at various times in the month. Figure out what your normal is.  

Visual aids rock!

What do lemons and boobies have in common? | My Fabulous Boobies

Breast cancer signs as seen on lemons

I saw this great picture on twitter and was immediately struck by how great it is as a visual tool to show the different ways that breast cancer can possibly look in your breasts.

Keep in mind... sometimes you don't see anything and you may still have breast cancer. There may be no physical signs at all. That is where trusting your gut intuition and having a mammogram come into play.

But, sometimes there are physical changes that are a signal that something is wrong. If you see changes like these in your breasts and the changes stick around for awhile... it is a good time to see your physician and have your breasts checked out.

Protect your health, check your breasts monthly

Every now and then, I get reluctant to discuss monthly self-exams. There is so much discussion online & in the news about whether or not it is a good thing to do monthly breast self-exams or if its overkill. While I understand the concerns that have been brought up about the anxiety about checking your breasts and since it is not a fool-proof way to discover cancer in your breast I can see how some people might feel like its not necessary.

But then, there's me. I'm the outlier who stands as a reminder that checking your breasts works. I'm just a sister who happened to have a great professor who was a breast cancer survivor... and that professor made breast cancer awareness real for me. Because I respected her and admired her story, I made it my business to keep in mind that checking my breasts was a good thing. I checked my breasts one day - same as I'd done for many years - and one time I felt something different. After tests and clinical exams and sonograms and MRI's and mammograms and biopsies...

What do lemons and boobies have in common? | My Fabulous Boobies

I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer just a few weeks after my 39th birthday. 

Statistically, the chances of that happening are really small. Under 30. No family history. No breast cancer gene. African American. There aren't a lot of women like me out there. But even one is too many and there are definitely far more young sisters fighting breast cancer diagnoses.

Tip: As a young woman (or man) with a concern about breast cancer, you may have a bit of difficulty convincing your doctor that your concern is not hysteria. Young women (defined as women under 40) and men are least likely to have breast cancer. If you are concerned, be sure to convey that clearly and firmly to your medical staff. They may try to brush off your concerns because it happens infrequently (relatively) but press anyway. 
Tip:  African-American women are more likely to have a type of breast cancer called triple negative that is very difficult to treat. African-American women do not get breast cancer at the same rate as our white counterparts, but when we are diagnosed, we are more likely to die from the disease. 

I've been through a lot

Six months after my diagnosis, I lost my breast. That was after 4 months of intense chemotherapy. After putting my ovaries to sleep to preserve my fertility, I emerged from treatment and was thrown into menopause. All in all, I spent over 2 years being treated for breast cancer. I lost a breast, lost my hair, lost my fingernails and my toenails. Lost the feeling in my fingertips and toes for awhile too. Lost a lot of weight. I spent a lot of time in the hospital because my immune system was so weak. I had quite a few surgeries (and even a couple of blood transfusions). I had my breast reconstructed. I developed lymphedema (a permanent swelling of my arm) because of my mastectomy. And I had to undergo physical therapy for months to get the range of motion back in my arm after my mastectomy and reconstruction. I've been through a lot BUT I made it through. And I'm grateful for that.

What do lemons and boobies have in common? | My Fabulous Boobies

The earlier that breast cancer is caught, diagnosed and treated... the better the results and the more treatable the cancer is. Again, there are no guarantees but early detection helps tremendously.

So, its your choice whether to check your breasts or not each month. And statistically, you're not likely to get breast cancer at this point in your life. More women don't have breast cancer than do. While the truth is that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime... most of those women will not be under 40 when they are diagnosed. Most women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their 50's and 60's. Yet, I am here to tell you that it can happen to a younger woman. It does happen. I have an entire circle of friends that it has happened to -- its real.

I'm glad that I had a professor who respected me enough as a young woman (with everything on my mind except breast cancer or my health) to share her story and encourage me to be concerned about my breast health. Before her, no one else had really given it much thought to share the information with me because they thought I was too young to worry about such things. Turns out they were wrong.

Sharing is caring (corny but true)

If you liked this post, please share it with your social networks. Spreading the word about breast cancer awareness is important.  Click the birdy below and remind your friends to check their boobies.

Tweet: Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer for African-American women.  Breast self-exams are important. #YesWeRise

Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer for African-American women. Regular breast self-exams are important. #YesWeRise

One day we'll have a cure... 

For more information about breast cancer, please check the Komen Foundation site:
Read: What everyone should know about breast cancer

*Editor's Note: This post originally appeared at My Fabulous Boobies (MFB). MFB is Nic Nac Paddywack's blog about her journey with breast cancer and her life as a survivor. 

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