A few weeks ago, I found myself in a thin hospital gown, staring at the speckled ceiling tiles as I waited for my ultrasound technician. The last time I’d done something like this was finding out the sex of my baby, who turned into Kiwi. This time, I was making sure a lump in my right breast, which I found during one of my sort-of regular breast self-exams, wasn’t going to kill me.
I hadn’t been that worried. In fact, I mentioned the lump to a breast health specialist in an offhand way when we were talking about my genetic risk factors for the Big C, since my mom had a very aggressive form of breast cancer at 39. The specialist referred me to an ultrasound tech, “just to be on the safe side.“
So I wasn’t sweating my appointment—until I was half naked, waiting, with nothing to distract me from my spiraling thoughts but the pocked patterns in the ceiling.
Spoiler alert: I’m totally fine. Turns out my boob is “cyst-y,” as the radiologist came in to tell me. (Pretty sure that’s a medical term she learned in very expensive medical school.) So in addition to having post-breastfeeding sad sag, my breast is also lumpy.
But! The cysts are totally benign. And lumpy is much better than deadly.
We need more than cancer awareness
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when we see pro athletes wear pink cleats and celebrities pin ribbons on their lapels.
I’m plenty aware of breast cancer—nearly losing my mom to it two decades ago means it’s never that far from my mind. But I don’t always act on that awareness by doing regular breast self-exams, and I’m pretty sure many of you are like me, too.
When I went in to get my breast ultrasound, I felt kind of sheepish, almost apologetic, like, “Sorry for wasting your valuable time with this super trivial thing that’s probably nothing! I’m sure I’m just imagining things!” But truthfully, everyone I talked to said I did exactly the right thing.
I did breast self-exams.
I noticed something different in my boob.
I talked to my medical provider.
I got it checked out.
And even though I now know I apparently have totally normal, won’t kill you cysts, the nurses, techs and doctor still told me to come in again if I ever notice a change.
So do me this favor, ladies. Check yourself. Breast self-exams aren’t rocket science; just cop yourself a feel in the shower or in bed before you fall asleep. And if you feel anything out of the ordinary, don’t believe the voice in your head that says a lump isn’t worth bothering your doctor over.
Because you are worth it.
Breast self-exams for your longterm health
I could write pages and pages on the deplorable state of our preventive health care system—how my insurance denied my doctor’s previous request for an ultrasound, how I have to wait until February to see a genetic counselor to discuss my high risk for breast cancer, how I’ll have to pay out of pocket to see if I carry the gene that makes it 4-5 times more likely to get breast cancer and 30 times more likely to get ovarian cancer.
Perhaps I’ll talk about all that in another post. Here, let me just say that any and every woman with breasts can take a big step in protecting her health. You don’t even need a doctor. Check your boobs, ladies. Just 5 minutes doing breast self-exams can save your life.