Breasts, Boobs, Ta-Tas and Milk Sacs...

I'll be upfront. This is not a fun post. It is not related to diapers. It is however related to all people. In fact, I think it's a topic much too familiar to people. I've been trying to find a way to express how I feel about it and I've come to the conclusion that here is as a good starting place.

Breast cancer. Such an ugly pair of words. Several of my in-laws have fought the disease and won. Now my extended family is in the midst of this disease. I knew a family member had fought it in the past, but it was never discussed openly. That side of the family has always had the "don't air your dirty laundry" mentality. Now though, it's tough to ignore. Two more members are now in the treatment process. It's not just a women's issue either. I've also learned recently that a male in my family dealt with it long ago. I don't know how to help or really react as I don't know how to deal with illness. I love them and want to help or be useful, but it's painful. I'm a province away with a young family. What can I possibly do to help? I figure talking about it and taking some personal action is a start.

I went to my doctor and asked for a screening. My doctor was willing to refer me for a mammogram. However, since I'm under 35 years of age, I was given the option of an ultrasound screening on both breasts at the Calgary clinics as they wouldn't do a mammogram unless the ultrasound screening found something. I figure it's a start and a good baseline. Over the past 5 years my breasts have gone through so many changes: pregnancy, breastfeeding, no breastfeeding, repeat. This crazy cycle had made self checks difficult. Between pregnancy and breastfeeding the size, shape and density of my breasts were constantly changing. I also haven't had a consistent doctor doing the annual checks...pretty much forever. 

Honestly, the ultrasound was a little weird. The only ultrasounds I've had prior to this were to check in on our growing babies. It took about 20 minutes for both breasts and underarms. The idea of her finding something was a little scary. Sure, it's a little weird having someone roll a wet, hard object around on your chest, but it was not uncomfortable. She was able to see the milk remaining in my ducts and it made for small chit chat to distract me. The technician didn't care what my boobs "looked" like or if I had stretch marks on my tummy. After the exam, she went and discussed the results with the radiologist. Ten minutes later I got an all clear. He didn't think a mammogram was necessary at this point. The entire process from walking in the door to me leaving the clinic was under 45 minutes; a minimal time commitment for such a good reason. The only part that bothered me was that I felt that I was not being taken seriously for my concern. I had to go out of my way, it seemed, to explain why I thought any screening should be done. I didn't have a "direct" link. This is strange to me as I see prevention as a much cheaper long term solution compared to Stage IV diagnosis. The direct link to the family members battling this disease was my father. He passed away at the age of 46. Sadly, I can't say whether or not his genetics will play a role in my life's outcome. What I do know is that heart disease and breast cancer are highly visible in my family tree and that I should be conscious of my life choices while being as proactive as I can.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation lists the risk factors and breaks them into two categories; modifiable and non-modifiable. You can go to their website to learn more about these risks factors and how they apply to you. I think even though my family history is there, I have a lot I can control. I breastfed my babies for a total of almost 4 years. I eat healthy (something I am trying to do consciously, but I am still battling my bread/sweet tooth). I need to exercise more. I can be vigilant. I can do self exams monthly. I can have my doctor do an annual exam. I can also request further testing like an ultrasound or mammogram. Even if there is nothing found, you have a baseline to refer to as you age.

So please...check your boobs regularly and investigate if you think something is wrong. There is no specific method; an awareness of what your breasts are like and noticing something different is the key. And please talk to your family about their medical history. It's more than just their history as there's a very good chance it could become your future. Prevention is key, it's in your hands in many ways.

 Thank you for letting me be all serious...the next post will be all about fun :)




May 24, 2012 by Laurie McGowan
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