I Give Myself a Monthly Breast Self-Exam Because It Could Save My Life, and You Should, Too
Exactly one year ago, my mom was in the shower and while shaving her armpit, she felt a hard lump in her upper right breast. She knew immediately. She called the doctor that very day. Just three months prior, her gynecologist had given her a clinical breast exam, which she passed perfectly.
Three. Short. Months. It turns out, she did have triple negative breast cancer. Yes, that's how fast cancer can grow.
Women should be giving themselves breast self-exams once a month. These exams should start at the ripe age of 20 years old.
If my mom hadn't taken immediate action on what she felt in the shower, well I'd rather not imagine where we'd be right now. But she did, and doctors successfully extracted her lump so she could quickly begin chemotherapy. It all went into motion within weeks. It's been a whole frickin' year and she's not quite finished with her journey yet, but it happened because she detected something. All by herself.
I know it might seem weird to poke and prod at your own boobs, but get over it. In the US in 2019, there will be an estimated 271,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in women, according to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. So I think you can feel your own boobs for a few minutes every 30 days. Not only is it a smart precaution, but it also helps you familiarize yourself with your breasts so that if you do see an abnormality in the future, you'll know right away.
"Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important."
"Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important," according to the Johns Hopkins Medical Center.
There are three ways you should conduct a self-exam: in the shower, in front of the mirror, and lying down. It's always best to do it during the ovulation period of your cycle, but you can still do it at any time. The National Breast Cancer Foundation provides great, straightforward directions on how to do a self-exam and what you should be looking for.
Obviously mammograms are important to start having as soon as you turn 40, but unfortunately most doctors refuse to give you one any younger if nothing is detected. So if you're under 40, do what you can to stay in control of your health. Give yourself exams. If you do find something, don't freak out. Make an appointment with your gynecologist so you can talk it over. It could be a number of things that are not cancer, such as cysts or lipomas (benign fatty growths), so there's no need to immediately jump to conclusions.
I'm a 27-year-old millennial woman, and I have a reminder on my calendar to examine myself every single month. Yep, I do it in the shower, I do it in front of a mirror, and I do it lying down.
Still feeling weird about it? Don't: I'm a 27-year-old millennial woman, and I have a reminder on my calendar to examine myself every single month. Yep, I do it in the shower, I do it in front of a mirror, and I do it lying down. I'll yell it from the rooftops. My own doctor has encouraged it. Have I gotten your attention yet?
My mom was the slap-in-my-face wake-up call I needed to think about these things, even in my 20s. None of us are invincible, and we should always remember that.
So what are you waiting for? Please go home and give yourself an exam. If not for yourself, for the people who love you.
If you want to skip the reading and watch a quick video on breast self examinations, click here.