I love my friend Ellyn because she is so much better (than me) at staying up-to-date on the latest breast cancer news and research, and then she informs others with her great blog. Just recently she discussed this article which has thrown me into a big, giant tizzy:Time just recently published an article discussing the latest research that maybe breast self-exams are not useful and - this is even worse - possibly even harmful to women.
I'm CRAZED with annoyance at this big, giant, piece-of-shit article and the research behind it. No, I don't think women need to go around feeling their breasts all the time and worrying about every little change. But, I do know that if I hadn't checked my own breasts, I'd be in some pretty serious trouble (much more so than I am in now, dealing with what I found). My tumor was a grade 3, triple-negative tumor, still smallish, still hadn't gone to the lymph nodes...but a tumor like that is serious business and would NOT have stayed that small for long. My breast surgeon was not surprised that it hadn't been found in an exam in November by myself and my gynecologist - even if it may have been around for a while as something very small, it could have grown substantially in just 3 months.
Women under 35 years old are not normally having yearly mammograms or breast MRIs - screening devices which can find breast cancer in its earlier stages. BUT, younger women are also much more likely to develop these more aggressive, grade 3, triple-negative tumors! I was sitting at chemo with a woman in her later 20s whose husband had found her 6cm breast tumor...now a stage III cancer which comes with a 5-year survival rate of somewhere between 37-60% (the percentages I find are all over the map). That tumor was not there for very long, either. Yes, I have the genetic mutation at the BRCA1 gene (but didn't know it...my grandmother on my father's side died of breast cancer but she had 6 sons. We didn't have any other breast cancer in my family history to clue me in, either.) BUT, this young woman does not carry the gene and still developed a serious breast cancer, very early in life.
The craziest part of the article noted that women who find lumps and then undergo further diagnostic testing (which may then prove that the tumor is benign) "often emerge with scars, breast deformities and emotional wounds." Can I just say, big F-ing deal? I'd just love to post a picture of my chest at this moment, which last night as I changed into my bathing suit on the boat (in the cabin) prompted my daughter to say "you wouldn't want anyone to see that, probably, as you have lots of scars around there" (as she made large sweeping motions indicating my ENTIRE torso)! Let me tell all of you, right now, just as I told her last night, "if you live long enough, you are going to get a few scars along the way, and I am happy with how I look." This chest is beautiful to me, because it is SAFE. This is still me, with no hair, a thousand scars, a deflated side of my chest, a crazy balloonish other side, and I am embracing the new scars that are coming. I'd take these scars ANY DAY to give me a prognosis which gives me a 5-year survival rate of somewhere between 88-98% (again, all over the map). And all of those women out there who get a little scar just to make sure that they are safe, should take that scar as a badge of courage, and love that scar because it says that breast cancer is not taking them away from their loved ones too early because they were not afraid to get it checked out.
So go ahead, lose some sleep, worry a little, get a few scars. Check yourself. Who cares if you find something that is benign? I have met more than a few women who found something, got it checked, it WAS benign, but they had breast cancer they didn't even know about in the other breast!!!! Go get checked if you feel something and then, I boldly suggest, ask for that diagnostic testing they say is so scary and unnecessary (because who really cares if it is unnecessary much of the time if you are that one person who they "think" has a benign tumor, you should just wait, but you find out later you actually have breast cancer? I know other women who fall into this category, too!). Do it because you want either the all clear, or something small enough to give you the best prognosis possible. Take it from me - you can get over lost sleep, worrying, and even the most giant scars. You wouldn't be able to get over missing your daughter's entire life because you were too afraid to check something out (or because you listened to this piece of shit article). At least I wouldn't.