Once upon a pre-breast cancer time, a physician paid me a high compliment. “You do better breast exams than most doctors,” he said. And I think he was right. Every month I performed the same ritual: a thorough breast self-exam, including the look-at-your-breasts-in-the-mirror test.
Although I always dreaded the idea of something possibly being wrong, I examined my breasts thoroughly and regularly.
Until a breast self exam (BSE) saved my life.
After I found an odd, but ever-so-subtle dimple during an anything-but-routine BSE, I made the dreaded appointment with my gynecologist, who ordered a diagnostic mammogram, which showed an abnormal mass.
The rest is history. Breast cancer. Two lumpectomies. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Aromatase Inhibitors. Constant monitoring. False scares. A mass found via MRI in the same breast five years after diagnosis. Scared shitless. Another lumpectomy to remove the mass. Benign this time. Fought for a bilateral mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction. Done. And done. My “healthy” left breast loaded with pre-cancerous cells.
Turns out, the bilateral mastectomy saved my life.
I’ve been a medical success story thus far, and I am grateful. Before and after surgery, my mastectomy surgeon emphasized the importance of continuing to do BSEs, as it’s impossible to remove all breast tissue during the mastectomy.
And now I have a confession to make. You can probably guess what it is.
I haven’t done a BSE since my bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction.
I’m too afraid of finding something.
Thick fear suffocating me.
I’ve let my fingers do the walking way too much for my taste. So I’ve let my doctors’ fingers do the walking instead.
But I realize that my dependence on my doctors’ breast exams must be over. I need to once again take ownership of my health in this arena.
So, here I am, a BSE newbie again, learning the unfamiliar terrain of breasts that are mine-yet-aren’t-mine.
My first post-mastectomy BSE is just around the corner. A corner I must unwillingly turn.
Doing a BSE will be emotional. I weep just thinking about it.
But being proactive is my only choice.
I must go forward.
Tags: breast cancer, breast self exam, BSE, chemotherapy, lumpectomy, mastectomy, radiation