Get to know your Boobs…

| October 3, 2012 | 0 Comments

Early detection of Breast Cancer is vital.

A year ago I wrote a blog post on my experience of finding a lump in my breast.  I’m very lucky that the ‘tumor’ that was found was benign, one year down the track, I face the possibility of having it surgically removed, as it has suddenly, rapidly grown, and need to have it tested to see if it has ‘changed’.  As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought I would re-post my story (edited a little to be relevant to now), to remind women of the huge importance of self-exams, and being pro-active with your health.

Ceara’s Story

The Breast Cancer Foundation recommends women start regular self exams/breast checks from the age of 20.  I have been pro-active about my health since my early 20’s, having regular smears, and doing self exams to check for breast lumps.  About one year ago, I was doing a breast check in the shower, when I felt a lump the size of a large marble in my right breast.  My first thought was that it must be a cyst, and it was not until a couple of days later, when I discussed it with my fiancé, and I decided I needed to get it checked.

Breast Self Exam

I booked in to see my GP, who confirmed that I needed a diagnostic mammogram. I then waited five weeks for the appointment. I honestly was not too concerned at this point. My mother had had small benign lumps, and breast cysts before, and she had told me that 9 out of 10 breast lumps are not cancerous, (which is what The Breast Cancer Foundation states on their website) and that in all likelihood it would just be a cyst. Now, by nature I am a worrier, so I was really proud of myself for not freaking out about this little lump, and I absolutely expected to go in, have a mammogram, and be told it was a cyst – end of story.

The day of the appointment however, I woke up feeling really worried, I think because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew the basics of the process, when having a mammogram, I knew that it might be a bit uncomfortable, but other than that I was a little clueless.

I was called in pretty quickly to change into a hospital gown, and led through to have the mammogram, by a lovely radiographer, Yunmei Li, who was also to be my amateur photographer that day (that’s me, preparing to have the mammogram below).  I explained to her that I wanted to write a piece on my experience, in the hope of encouraging younger women to regularly perform self exams, and asked if she would take a couple of pictures that I could use with my article.  She was very kind, and eager to help me out. She was fantastic, explaining everything she was doing, and taking care, to make sure she made the process as comfortable as possible. It was all over very quickly, and not painful at all, uncomfortable, yes, but really no big deal.

Mammogram

Next I saw a radiology doctor for an ultrasound.  He started the exam, and I asked if it was just a cyst, he said ‘No, it wasn’t, and explained that a cyst is very dark, almost black on the ultrasound, and that my lump was more grey with flecks of white, and it ‘wasn’t as round, and smooth around the edges as we would like, it’s a little irregular in shape’, ‘Oh, just my luck’ I said giggling (yes giggling, I was a little hysterical at this point, and when stressed I can start laughing in the most inappropriate of circumstances, it’s a family trait) – safe to say he looked at me like I was nuts.   

It hit me right then that this might not be so straightforward, and for some reason I wanted to laugh even more (not because I thought it was funny – believe me!). When he was finished with the ultrasound, I nearly leapt off that bed, I asked Yunmei if I could leave now, but she said no, I now had to go to the other side of the building, to see a different doctor about my results. I had an overwhelming feeling that I wanted to go home at that point, this was suddenly real, and scary, and I just wanted out of there.

I went to the next appointment, by this point my hysteria had turned to fear. A lovely doctor greeted me, looked through my notes, and asked me some questions. I now had to have a needle biopsy, or what she called an ‘F and A’. I lay down, expecting lots of pain, but to be honest it was not bad at all, a couple of little stings, although at one point the doctor laughed, and said ‘this little bugger just does not want to give up any cells!’, great, I thought, I’m going to be here all day with a needle in my boob! (cue more hysteria). Once this procedure was finished the doctor sat down, and explained to me each possible scenario that could occur, depending on the results of the biopsy, and that if my first results came back inconclusive, that I would have to come back for a ‘core biopsy’. She also said that even if the results were benign (not cancerous), that they would look at removing the lump because of the size of it (over 3 cm). It was quite overwhelming really, and something you never think you are going to have to deal with, especially not at 30.

Thankfully, after an agonising wait, I was told I was one of the lucky women, who’s tumour is benign.  I cried for the first time during the whole process then – out of sheer relief!  I did also spend some time thinking of all those women, who don’t get the good news I just had – my heart breaks for them all.

Now, one year later, that sneaky little tumour is growing, at a sudden and rapid rate, and it has become more and more painful, so I am going to have to do some more tests, to be sure it hasn’t become cancerous, and look at having it removed.  Yet I still feel so very lucky, that my problem is minor compared to all the women in New Zealand, and Australia battling Breast Cancer every day.

I am scared, but absolutely determined to be positive, and supremely grateful that things were not so much worse, as they are for so many women. What I do know is that just because you are under 45 (the age at which regular screening is recommended for women) it does not mean that you should not be pro-active, and regularly check yourself for lumps.  I’ve heard so many women I know say ‘but my boobs are lumpy anyway’, well yes, most boobs are – but if you are doing regular self exams, you will ‘get to know your boobs’, so you will notice if something changes – you will KNOW if there is a lump there, that wasn’t before.

650 WOMEN A YEAR DIE FROM BREAST CANCER – we MUST not be complacent about this.  Be pro-active, check yourself, If you are not sure how to check yourself, ask your GP, or public health nurse to show you.  If you have children, breast-feed if you can, and for as long as you can – recent research shows that you have a 4-5% decreased risk of developing breast cancer for every 12 months of breastfeeding*. Get informed, head over to the Breast Cancer Foundation website ( *www.nzbcf.org.nz) and learn how you can reduce your risks.

Going through this process, if you find a lump, is scary, but not finding cancer early enough, is scarier. There is no reason in the world why you shouldn’t check yourself regularly – get to know your boobs, so you will know if something changes in them.

October is Breast Cancer Action Month, please head over to www.takeaction.org.nz and find out how you can be a part of the fight against an awful disease.

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