October is a month of celebration: pumpkin spice everything, Halloween, apple picking, fall boots, and chunky knit sweater weather. It is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and your annual reminder that we need to have regular at-home and in-office screenings, as early detection can save your life.
By age 20, women should start performing monthly self-breast exams. This will help you to become familiar with what’s “normal,” so that you can notice any changes. You can perform self-breast exams in the shower using your 3 middle fingers and pressing down on your entire breast and armpit. You can also perform the self-exam lying down, placing a pillow under your right shoulder and raising your right arm above your head to check your right breast, then mirroring the process.
If you find a lump or new discoloration or mole, make an appointment with your doctor. But don’t panic, as 8 out of 10 lumps turn out to be nothing of concern. I know that “don’t panic” is much easier said than done and having fibrocystic breasts myself, I can’t tell you how many moments of panic I have had!
Women 25 and older should have an annual clinical breast exam as part of their annual gynecology appointment.
Women 40 and older should also have an annual mammogram. If you have a history of breast cancer, you can have a “baseline” mammogram starting at age 35.
I lost my mother to metastatic breast cancer when she was only 59 years old. She lived only one year past her diagnosis. By the time they had discovered the cancer, it was too aggressive to stop. Early detection is key, and while I can’t let myself go down the spiral of “what ifs” with my mother’s cancer journey, I can make sure that I remain vigilant in my own care.
I also know many incredible breast cancer survivors, including 15-year-survivor Jenifer Condon, who inspires and amazes me every day, and went through chemo while pregnant with her daughter (who is now the picture of health and a thriving high school student).