Let me start off by telling you how much I love my boobs. They are by far my favorite body part. They’re big and perky, with the right push-up bra, of course. When I choose to, I deploy them as a (very effective) guy magnet. A comedian once dedicated half of his set to their fabulousness when he spotted them in the audience. Despite the fact that sometimes they cause me some trouble, I love them. I even love the scar on my left breast. The scar from my lumpectomy. Because the year after I graduated college, I had breast cancer.
I very rarely say (or type) that sentence. It’s not something I share with many people. In fact, I can probably count the number of people who know that about me on my two hands. Comparatively speaking, my bout with cancer was easy. It started with an odd, painful feeling that would happen when my arm (or something else) would hit my boob in a certain way. I ignored it for a few weeks, thinking it was just something I had aggravated during a workout. But when it didn’t go away, I figured I should do a self-breast exam. That was when I found the lump, which I fondly referred to as Bob. I made an appointment with my gynecologist, who sent me for a mammogram. The test confirmed that Bob was, unfortunately, not a figment of my imagination. The next stop was a surgeon, who confirmed with a fine needle aspiration biopsy that Bob was of the malignant variety. We scheduled surgery. I awoke to the news that Bob was out and that he had clear margins, meaning that no cancer cells were found around his edges. I was one of the very few lucky ones who was declared cancer-free after a “lumpectomy with no further treatment,” meaning no radiation or chemotherapy, just a lot of followup screening. I continue to be monitored and I am still cancer-free.
As you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We will see pink ribbons everywhere from NFL games to awards shows. There are enough products repackaged in pink to make any sorority girl giddy with joy. We will all wear pink, and not just on Wednesdays. We see the ribbons and we are aware. We are aware that about one in eight U.S. women (about 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. We are aware that it is estimated that in 2014, there will be 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women. We are aware that breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer.
But oftentimes, as young women, we don’t think this is something that can happen to us. It’s not recommended that women start mammograms until the age of 40 or 50 (depending on the source)–and that’s with good reason. According to the American Cancer Society, the risk of breast cancer is very low for women in their twenties and gradually increases with age. Less than five percent of all breast cancers occur in women under age 40.
But, as I am clearly the living (thankfully) proof, it can happen. And according to the Cancer Institute in Boston, breast cancers in young women (age 40 and younger) tend to be found later and in more aggressive stages, because younger women are generally less aware of their risk and are less likely to be screened. So I make a personal plea to each of you: if something feels weird, get it checked out. Feel up your boobs on the regular and if you find a lump, call your doctor immediately. Be sure that you ask your gynecologist to conduct a clinical breast exam during your checkups, no matter how awkward it is. Educate yourself about your family’s medical history and your risk factors. Be proactive about your breast health. More than 90 percent of women whose breast cancer is found in an early stage will survive, and I want as many women as possible to join me as one of them.
By the way, October is also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which tends to be overshadowed by Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Both are super important to us ladies, so be sure to wear a little purple with your pink..