Now that I have your attention, let me confirm that you did not read that title wrong. Touching my boobs saved my life, and I believe if you do it, it could save yours too. I am a happily married, straight, Christian mother of three. I spend a lot of time screaming from the rooftops about how this incredibly intimate practice can be the very thing that saves several lives everyday. The truth is that this desire of mine does not have an ounce of sexual motivation behind it and should be as normal as getting your hair snatched by your favorite beautician.
If you haven’t guessed it already, yes, I am talking about doing self-breast exams! This may not be the most conventional way to bring up this topic, but I don’t care. I’m not trying to be politically correct; I’m trying to save lives!
I started doing them about four years ago when a fellow Olympian and friend found out she had stage 0 cancer. I admit, in addition to being genuinely concerned about her, I was curious as to how she even discovered it! After all, we are not supposed even to start paying attention to breast health until age 40. I was kind of timid to approach her, but I engaged her in conversation while riding on a bus in Europe. Surprisingly she was an open book. She warned me at that time that I should be doing breast exams now and not to wait. Once again, I was embarrassed but asked her how to perform a self-exam, and right there on a bus near the middle of the night, she showed me how to do it over my shirt.
One way to do a self-breast exam
- With three fingers, I started at the top of my breast a few inches away from the nipple and began small circles in a clockwise motion.
- I circled around and around my breast getting slightly closer to the nipple until I was done.
- Lastly, I squeeze the nipple and areola to feel for abnormalities
- I felt the entirety of each breast and was satisfied that I didn’t feel anything that rang alarms.
- Additional detailed methods and what to look for can be found here
I remember her telling me that she noticed a thickening in her breast during her exam and, after discussing with her doctor, determined it was best for her to have it taken out. She ended up having a double mastectomy without further treatment needed!
Her diagnosis shook me to my core. We were both barely 30 and extremely healthy. At that point in my life, I was completely clueless about breast health. Not because I didn’t think it was necessary, but because frankly, I DIDN’T HAVE ANY BREASTS!!!!. I mean literally, not an ounce of breast tissue. They worked just fine. I was able to breastfeed my three kids, but they never grew. I didn’t have an official cup-size, so falsely, I wasn’t that concerned. I always knew that I would eventually become more concerned when I reached 40 because medical experts tell us that it is time to be concerned.
Myths that you should never believe when it comes to your breast health
- Breast Cancer is an old women’s disease. (Wrong, more and more young women are being diagnosed at later stages every year)
- You don’t have to worry about breast cancer if you are nursing ( Wrong again, many women discover abnormalities during breastfeeding)
- Men can’t get breast cancer (Although rare, many men are diagnosed with breast cancer)
- You have to be unhealthy to get it. (It’s a problem that all of us need to be mindful of)
- Don’t worry about it, your doctor will find it (Most women find it on their own and you are your first line of defense)
I wanted to give you this huge lead-up, but instead, I am going to jump right in. Never in a million years did I think that night with my friend would save my life. It had only been two years after starting the exams at the age of 34 I found CANCER! Yes, CANCER!
I noticed the lump immediately! I knew every gland, pore, hair, and crease of my girls. So when I felt a lump the size of a grain of rice, my blood ran cold. Ah, heck, here we go!!! Immediately my thoughts went to the worst possible scenario. I so desperately wanted someone to tell me that I was overreacting and crazy, and the more I looked, the more people I found to say that it was no big deal and not to worry about it. As much as they wanted to wish me well, something inside would not let me sleep, so I set an appointment the next day.
Here’s the deal! If you are under 40 and have no family history of breast cancer, THEY WILL NOT GIVE YOU A MAMMOGRAM!!! Luckily I knew this, so let’s just say a girl had to do what she had to do to get under that camera. Let’s just leave it at that. For you, if your doctor doesn’t want to let you have a mammogram or diagnostic ultrasound, say this, “Thank you, can you please note in my file that I am requesting a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound due to a palpable lump and that you are refusing to give it to me?”. I’m telling you, nine times out of 10; they will give you one because they don’t want to be liable.
In less than 24 hours, I was dressed in a white gown, about to expose myself to the cameras and face my most terrifying fears. I couldn’t sleep the night before because of all of the crazy “what if’s”. Most importantly, what would happen to my three kids and my husband if this test came back positive for cancer?
That fear was short-lived.
In less than an hour, I had the results. In a diagnostic exam, you get the results right then and there and don’t have to wait in agony for days on end.
The results were given to me exactly as follows, “Okay, little lady, you need to gain some weight. (Man Cups his breast and shakes them as if I could gain weight only in my boobs!) What you have here is an ordinary lymph node. You do not have cancer, so stop worrying. I don’t want to see you back here for six years when your 40 for your mammogram. “
Praise God!!! I exhaled deeply as tears of relief immediately began to stream down my face. My heart was filled with joy, and I went back to work with new eyes and a newfound appreciation for life.
Days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months and that “lymph node” was still there. I tried every lymph node detox I could get my hands on, and it would not budge. In the middle of our church’s annual fast, I had a dream. It was a terrifying dream about being held down on a table by many laughing people who were forcing me to get a biopsy. They stuck a needle into my chest and said, “Yep, it’s black’. The dream left me so disturbed that my blood had once again turned cold.
Listening to my dreams
Eleven months had passed since my last appointment, and I decided the next day, I would go for a second opinion. The second doctor, a woman, was very alarmed with what I told her about my previous appointment. She immediately scheduled me for another diagnostic ultrasound. The wait was agonizing. This time I had to wait an entire month for an appointment. I did self-exams each hour at this point, with worry completely overtaking me. During that month, I can tell you that the small rice sized lump was growing exponentially.
When I finally got in, they compared my current films with the one from the year before and saw that the lump had indeed tripled in size, and just like the dream, I was immediately sent in for a biopsy. It was explained to me that they would inject a needle the width of a pencil into my breast guided by ultrasound and puncture the tissue like a hole punch. They would take out about 4-5 one inch corks and send them to the lab for testing. I was fuming. Just like the dream, there was laughing in the office, and I was miserable for even being there. I was rude to the staff and completely sour that my life had taken such an awful turn. It wasn’t their fault, but I was deep into the “why me” phase.
In contrast to the dream, the surgeon that did the biopsy was very kind and said that the tissue looked very good and healthy based on her 30-year experience. I took that statement and ran with it. I prayed and settled that this was just a wake-up call to take better care of my body.
Eight days later, I was called into the office for the results. I was so convinced that I would get a good report that I brought my kids and husband to the office. I left them in the car and skipped happily into the building and waited in the private room for the pathology report. When the surgeon came in, she looked around and said, where is your husband? I was like; “he’s in the car with the kids.” She swallowed hard and said, you need to call him and find someone to watch your kids. At that moment, I knew my life would never be the same. Not wanting me to be alone, she called my husband on speaker and asked him to do his best to hide his expression from our kids. He said that he could do it, and she began to read the results.
“I don’t have good news for you.” “You have breast cancer in every single cell that we collected” “The type of cancer is invasive ductal carcinoma.” You need to leave here immediately go to meet your new oncologist. She said so much more after that, but I didn’t hear a word. I sat there alone, crying without a single facial expression. Tears were dripping in puddles on the floor as I sat with my head down. For the first time in my entire life, I did not have a single thought. Completely catatonic, I realized that I needed to begin to fight to keep consciousness.”
Through a whirlwind of appointments, tests, and surgeries, it was determined that I had a very early stage of breast cancer. I was diagnosed with stage 1 triple-negative breast cancer. The good news is the survival rate is very high when caught and treated early. Like my friend, I had both of my breast cut off with a double mastectomy and got had reconstruction with implants. I went through chemotherapy and lost my lower back length hair. Yes, it hurt, but I escaped with my life because I made it a practice to touch my breast.
If I can leave you with one thing today, it’s this. TOUCH YOUR BOOBS!!! Know your girls so well that if you grow an extra hair follicle, you know it. It could save your life because it saved mine!!!!
If you go to the doctor and don’t get the care that you think that you need, be your own `advocate and keep pressing until you are satisfied!
Love you girls, and know that I am here for you, Mommies!!!
ShanayeOctober 13, 2020 10:56 am
Thank you so much for this! Black women have to advocate for ourselves when it comes to health. Thank you for reminding us to have them note when they refuse things we suggest.