Healthy Living: Breast cancer: breast self examination

About two months ago I lost my mother-in-law, and during the funeral mass I sat next to one of my sisters-in-law, and it was during this time that I felt pain in my left breast. She saw me trying to bear the pain, and she told me how her cancer of the breast was diagnosed.This lady won the race and now she is cancer free. Two months down the road and here I am being tested for cancer –and still waiting for my results; praying day and night that all goes well.

About two months ago I lost my mother-in-law, and during the funeral mass I sat next to one of my sisters-in-law, and it was during this time that I felt pain in my left breast. She saw me trying to bear the pain, and she told me how her cancer of the breast was diagnosed.

This lady won the race and now she is cancer free. Two months down the road and here I am being tested for cancer –and still waiting for my results; praying day and night that all goes well.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and women everywhere are encouraged to go for testing. I remember just a few months ago when I wrote a piece about knowing one’s status and I dint know that a few months down the line, would be a twist of events.

In the world of technology we lost Steven Jobs the co-founder and the brains behind Apple Company. This man lost the battle fighting cancer of the colon. Just early this month we witnessed the burial of a great African lady, Prof. Wangari Maathai who also lost a battle fighting cervical cancer.

These are just but a few recent cases.

Last week I read a statement by Dr. Agnes Binagwaho confirming that we have no oncologist in Rwanda, and that is why people like me travel all the way to Nairobi to do these tests which are now very vital, because you never know.

First and foremost; I would like to encourage women to do self breast examination (BSE), this is when a woman examines herself to see whether there are any tale tell signs of a problem in her breasts.

Self breast examinations should be performed each month in addition to an annual mammogram or a clinical exam. Knowing your cyclical changes, what is normal for you, and what regular monthly changes in the breast feel like is the best way to keep an eye on your breast health.

Breast tissue extends from under your nipple and areola up toward your armpit. I can tell you that these tests are not cheap; I have had to pay through my nose for all these cancer tests to be done on me.

It is therefore advised that women learn a few of these tests so be able to do self breast examination. Below are the steps to be taken when doing self breast examination-all these courtesy of the internet.

If you are pre-menopausal: Set a regular time to examine your breasts a few days after your period ends, when hormone levels are relatively stable and breasts are less tender.

If you are already menopausal (have not had a period for a year or more): Pick a particular day of the month to do the exam, and then repeat your BSE on that day each month.

2. Visual Exam - Hands on Hips

In the privacy of your bathroom, strip to the waist and stand before a mirror. You will need to see both breasts at the same time. Stand with your hands on your hips and check the appearance of your breasts. Look at size, shape, and contour. Note changes, if any, in the skin colour or texture. Look at the nipples and areolas, to see how healthy they look.

3. Visual Exam - Arms Over Your Head

Still standing in front of the mirror, raise your arms over your head and see if your breasts move in the same way, and note any differences. Look at size, shape, and drape, checking for symmetry.

Pay attention to your nipples and areolas, to see if you have any dimples, bumps, or retraction (indentation). Look up toward your armpits and note if there is any swelling where your lymph nodes are (lower armpit area).

4. Manual Exam - Stand and Stroke

Raise your left arm overhead, and use your right-hand fingers to apply gentle pressure to the left breast. Stroke from the top to the bottom of the breast, moving across from the inside of the breast all the way into your armpit area.

You can also use a circular motion, being sure to cover the entire breast area. Take note of any changes in texture, colour, or size. Switch sides and repeat. This is best done in the shower, as wet skin will have the least resistance to the friction of your fingers.

5. Manual Exam - Check Your Nipples

Still facing the mirror, lower both arms. With the index and middle fingers of your right hand, gently squeeze the left nipple and pull forward.

Does the nipple spring back into place? Does it pull back into the breast? Note whether or not any fluid leaks out. Reverse your hands and check the right nipple in the same way.

6. Manual Exam - Recline and Stroke
This is best done in your bedroom, where you can lie down. Place a pillow on the bed so that you can lie with both your head and shoulders on the pillow. Lie down and put your left hand behind your head.

Use your right hand to stroke the breast and underarm, as you did in step 4. Take note of any changes in texture, colour, or size. Switch sides and repeat.

Mark your calendar to remind yourself to do your BSE regularly. This is a good way to prevent worry if find a normal cyclic change. Stay relaxed and breathe normally as you do your BSE.

Becoming tense will produce some knots that you may mistake for something worrisome. Report any changes or unusual pain to your doctor. Keep a log of changes, if that helps you remember. Remember to have an annual clinical exam and a mammogram.

kayitesius@yahoo.com

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