There is a stigma in our world today when it comes to matters of health. Time and time again, I have heard men and women of all ages say they don’t want to go to the doctor because they are “scared to hear bad news”. Trust me, I was in that position just a year ago, and if I hadn’t taken my health into my own hands I most likely wouldn’t be writing this today. My thoughts about taking charge of my own health have changed significantly in the past year, and I am a strong believer that we all need to be our own health advocates. Taking the time to check in with our bodies may seem minimal, but it is so important and brave. It takes a great amount of discipline, strength, and courage to constantly check in with ourselves, because yes, the fear is real that we may discover that something is just not right.
My name is Danielle and I was 30 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I know what bad news sounds like when it comes to health. The word “cancer” was my biggest fear just over a year ago and I faced it head on. If I hadn’t listened to my body, taken the time to check, and pushed my doctors to get the tests I knew I needed, I don’t even want to imagine what could have happened. I don’t mean to sound preachy, rather I want to encourage and empower others to be their own health advocates, especially for women and their breast health (of course as this subject is close to my heart).
First, we need to change our thinking about self-exams. It’s easy to put them off and say “I’ll do it another day”—but those days become weeks, months, and years. Instead, take a positive, proactive attitude about it—by performing a self-breast exam each month, you are being kind to your body. You are saying to it, “I see you, I feel you, I am taking care of you”. I think if you say this mantra each time you do a self-exam, you will appreciate the results. It makes you feel empowered and helps you realize you are doing what is best for yourself. These things take time and practice, so don’t judge yourself too harshly mentally or physically—the first step is trying.
Another way to take charge or your breast health is to be consistent. Most of us know we should be checking our breasts every month. We also know as women that monthly changes can alter hormones and the way our body feels. “Feel It On The First” is great advice I received from an amazing online community of young breast cancer survivors. It means to give yourself a self-exam on the first of each month. You will always remember when you did your last exam and will help you notice any changes that might occur in your breasts. Consistency is key. It will give you a great sense for comparison and allow you to easily report anything that you might feel off to your doctor. It takes the guess work out around periods and hormonal changes.
Lastly, I want to do a quick review of how a self-breast exam should be performed. I have learned a lot about this subject given my diagnosis. Sharing what I’ve learned with other women gives them the power to take health into their own hands (literally).
- First examine your breasts in the mirror. Notice how they look, from collarbone down to where your breasts meet your abdomen and all the way over to your arm pits. Look for any differences in your skin and nipples. I like to keep a health journal to note exactly what I feel during each monthly exam. Even if everything seems normal I will note that, so I can reference any changes along the way.
- Second stand in front of the mirror and raise each arm. Use your pointer, middle, and ring fingers to make small circles all over each breast. Check the same areas mentioned before: breasts, nipples, up to the collarbone, and under each arm. If you want to keep a journal like me, jot down anything you notice or if you notice nothing out of the ordinary.
- Third lay down and repeat step two. Putting your arms over your head and feeling each breast area including up to the collar bone and armpit. Again, note your exam and if there are findings or nothing unusual.
- This whole process should take you no more than 10 minutes. We all have 10 minutes to spare especially for something that should take priority–our health. If you do find something, do not run in fear. Note how it feels, where it is, and a possible size if you can determine. Remember most lumps and bumps are not cancerous, but it is worth the check up to be sure!
I wrap this up with a reminder to whoever is reading this—you are a warrior, and you’re stronger than you know. Keep telling yourself that each day. When you think of this remember we have one body to live in, and we should take care of it the best we can. Each thing we do for our health takes such strength and courage, so be kind to yourself and accept how strong you are. These things take time and practice, so don’t judge yourself too harshly mentally or physically—the first step is trying.
— Danielle Trops, @wears_trops