On the 4th of September, 2012 time seemed to have come to a halt. An entire lifetime, the future plans and milestones, was suddenly condensed into such a small time frame. The urgency of ‘now’ became forefront. Seven years ago, my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Having two types of cancer in one breast – triple negative and oestrogen positive – meant that she had to undergo six chemotherapy sessions and a mastectomy, in addition to her ovaries, fallopian tubes and lymph glands removed.
While breast cancer has some of the highest survival rates, with an approximate 90 per cent survival rate with early detection, the emotional turmoil and identity crisis that accompanied such a traumatic experience shouldn’t be something that anyone has to go through.
Today, less than half of British women (48 per cent) – according to Breast Cancer Now – regularly check their boobs, with one in eight having never checked at all. The two main reasons for such low statistics, the charity claims, is a lack of confidence in checking and forgetfulness.
Breast cancer at such a young age may seem unlikely, and it is, in comparison with the number of women diagnosed over the age of 50, it unfortunately doesn’t render it improbable. Cancer is not on our time frame, it doesn’t seem to have any definite cause or source, so it is so important that we get to know our boobs now!
Steps to check your breasts:
•Check yourself in the mirror and look out for changes in size and shape; perhaps, for example, one breast is bigger than the other.
•Next, check the nipples: are they are puckered in, changed in direction?
•Then, look at the skin of the breast and its texture.
While sites such as the NHS suggest key signifiers of breast cancer such as inward nipples, crusting etc, it is important to know that these are not in itself definite signs of cancer. This may just be how your breast and nipple have always been, which is why it is so important to get to know your body.
Furthermore, try this visual step with different positions, such as hands behind the head or hands on the hips, looking from the front as well as both sides, in order to get a better visual of not only your boob, but above and below the area.
•With your three middle fingers flat together, press the skin towards to ribs in a circular motion.
•Feel your breast tissue: is it lumpy, firm or soft? Repeat this on all four sections of your boob.
•Next, feel the nipple and work your way up to the collar bone, again checking for texture and firmness.
It is important to not only check your actual breast, but the areas surrounding it. Breast cancer can often spread to your lymph nodes, suggesting a more advanced cancer. So, it is essential once you’ve felt your front to check the side breast tissue and into the armpit for any thickness or lumps. Although women with larger breasts may find it easier to lie on their backs, women with smaller breasts may want to check while in the shower or bath. However you decide to check, at least you’re checking!
Examining your breasts now, all the lumps and bumps, doesn’t need to be a scary task. Breast tissue can be hard and that’s completely normal. But knowing your body is a vital step in being able to identify any abnormalities later on.
This doesn’t exclude men either. Each year, 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer as stated by Breast Cancer Now. We often forget that men have breast tissue also and so raising awareness of the genderless nature of breast cancer and the universality of these examination steps is key in order to detect it as early as possible.
So now you confidently know the basic steps to checking yourself, the trick is to remember to regularly do it.
CoppaFeel!, the first breast cancer charity to raise awareness amongst young people, provide a monthly reminder to check your boobs. To sign up, text UBT EDI to 70 500 or go onto the CoppaFeel! website to sign up for SMS via a code.
On September 4, 2012, the possibility of losing my mum was heart-breaking, despite such early detection.
Her bravery, positivity and strength of character pulled her through just as much as the amazing work of modern medicine. Her openness to share such a dark period, her determination to reconnect with herself and not let this illness, and all its other ramifications, deter from who she is as a person is just so awe-inspiring.
If my mum’s battle with cancer has taught me anything is that you should never be afraid to speak up about your body. You may think you are too young, or the change is too small to make a fuss and seek consultation, but it is so important not to ignore your body.
Your body, your life matters, it’s time to treat it with the respect it deserves and regularly monitor its healthiness.
Illustration: Hannah Robinson