|Photo taken by my daughter|
In October last year, I wrote the post "Love your breasts... get a mammogram" reminding, encouraging, imploring women to be conscientious about monitoring the health of their breasts by getting their annual [or biennial] mammogram starting at age 40, or earlier for women with a family history of breast cancer.
This year, I am reminding, encouraging and imploring you to be conscientious about another important part of your breast health plan and that is to do regular Breast Self-Exams [BSE] starting in your 20s.
I personally endorse this as an absolute necessary component of your breast health plan because in January of this year, I found a lump in my right breast while doing a Breast Self-Exam, just two months after having had a clear mammogram. Thankfully, I was eventually diagnosed with a benign breast disease, but it was a harrowing several weeks between finding my lump and receiving my diagnosis. An experience that I will never forget.
On the morning of January 4, I was doing a breast-self exam while lying bed and found a lump on the lower, outer area of my right breast. It felt about the size and shape of an almond in its shell, and since it was close to the surface, I could put fingers around it and move it. Startled, I went to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror. I raised my arm over my head and moved my breast aside and saw the shape of the lump protrude under my skin. I tried to remain calm and optimistic that this could be something benign, but boy that is WAY harder than it sounds. I admit that the fear that I was going to start a battle with cancer was hard to tamp down, but I tried my best to think positively.
I called my gynecologist as soon as her office opened and was grateful that she saw me that same afternoon. She reassured me that she was confident it was a benign tumor but ordered an ultrasound to decide the next step. I had an ultrasound about two days later, but the lump was un-imagable, indicating that the lump tissue was the same density as the surrounding breast tissue. When my gynecologist got the results a few days later, she referred me to a breast care specialist, whom I saw about a week or so later.
The breast care specialist is a surgeon who specializes in breast care and breast diseases. He concurred with my gynecologist with the likely diagnosis of a benign tumor, and because the lump was palpable and easily accessible, the best and most thorough course of action would be to surgically remove the tumor and have it sent to the lab for evaluation. So that's what we did. Two weeks later, on the morning of that horrendous ice storm that hit the East Coast on February 2, 2011, I had a lumpectomy on my breast. A week later, my breast care physician called me with the histological results and informed me that the tumor was indeed benign and my official diagnosis is a breast disease known as Pseudoangiomatous Stromal Hyperplasia of the Breast, also referred to as PASH. PASH is a rare, but benign breast disease that causes the proliferation of stromal lesions or tumors in the breast. It is a huge relief to know PASH is always a benign disease, but because it is a recurring [can happen again] and proliferative [grows and spreads quickly] disease, I am being diligent about doing monthly self-exams so I can find any future tumors early. The doctor has implied that it's likely I'll never have another PASH tumor, but if I do find one, it's likely another PASH tumor and not a cancerous type of tumor. From what I understand, PASH is more closely linked to progesterone receptors as opposed to estrogen receptors, which is good news for me since malignant breast diseases are more closely linked to estrogen, not progesterone.
Fortunately, my diagnosis has a positive prognosis. If I had not found the lump early, it could have proliferated and been more difficult to remove if it had grew very large or spread to other areas of my breast. Or if the lump was not caused by PASH but by a malignant breast disease, and I had not found it early, the course of treatment could have proven more complicated and even life threatening. But those scenarios didn't pan out because I do self-exams.
So here I am, proof positive that Breast Self-Exams are a valuable part of a breast care plan and I emphasize how important it is that YOU take this component of breast care screening into your own hands--literally!--an do Breast Self-Exams.
For information on how to do Breast Self-Exams, talk to your health care provider.
You can also find a lot of accurate information on breast care and how to do Breast Self-Exams from reliable sources online. Here are a few links to get you started:
Susan G. Komen Cure: Breast Self-Exam
American Cancer Society: Breast Cancer Detection
BreastCancer.org: The Five Steps of a Breast Self-Exam
WebMD: Breast Self Exam Tool
WebMD Breast Self-Exam
Please love your breasts... do breast self-exams!