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Picture of lisa fournace winn, dnp, aprn

lisa fournace winn, dnp, aprn

My Journey with Breast Cancer: The Vital Role of Self-Breast Exams and Regular Screenings

Introduction: In 2018, my life took an unexpected turn when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This diagnosis came just three months after a seemingly normal mammogram, an experience that forever changed my perspective on breast health. Today, I want to share my personal story and emphasize the crucial importance of self-breast exams and staying current on mammograms and ultrasounds.

A Fateful Day: My journey with breast cancer began on the day of my friend’s first oncology appointment, where I was to provide support. Ironically, I started feeling discomfort in my breast that day. As a nurse, I playfully joked about the possibility of having breast cancer. Little did I know, this seemingly innocent discomfort would lead to a life-altering discovery.

The Power of Self-Breast Exams: That evening, as the discomfort persisted, I decided to do a self-breast exam. What I found was an abnormal lump. Initially, I dismissed it, thinking it couldn’t be anything serious, given my recent mammogram. However, my nursing instincts told me to take it seriously. I consulted a colleague, and although she believed it might be nothing, we decided to pursue additional imaging as a precaution.

A Life-Changing Diagnosis: Exactly one week after finding the lump, my worst fears were confirmed: I had breast cancer. The shock and fear that followed were overwhelming, but I couldn’t help but feel grateful that I had listened to my body and taken action promptly.

The Controversy Surrounding Self-Breast Exams: In the United States, self-breast exams are no longer widely recommended due to concerns about increased imaging, biopsies, and heightened anxiety among women. While these concerns are valid, I firmly believe that anxiety is not always a negative response. It can be our body’s way of communicating with us. I’d choose a moment of anxiety over a late cancer diagnosis any day.

The “Raisin in Oatmeal” Approach: Many women express uncertainty about what to look for during self-breast exams. I often compare it to finding a raisin in oatmeal. Your breasts, like oatmeal, are naturally lumpy and bumpy. If you feel something that stands out, like a raisin, different from the usual lumps and bumps, it’s time to take action.

Taking Action: If you do find a “raisin” during your self-breast exam, it doesn’t necessarily mean cancer. It signifies something that needs further evaluation. Contact your OBGYN or primary care provider for a clinical breast exam and discuss the need for additional imaging if required.

Addressing Mammogram Misconceptions: Some women are hesitant to undergo mammograms due to fear of pain. While they may cause momentary discomfort, it quickly subsides, making it a small price to pay for early detection. Ultrasounds are also vital, but they are used selectively to target specific areas. Momentary discomfort can mean the difference between early detection and late stage cancer.

Conclusion: In conclusion, breast health is a personal responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Monthly self-breast exams, along with yearly mammograms and ultrasounds when necessary, are critical components of early detection.  Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for Black and Hispanic women in the US, and the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related deaths for Asian & Pacific Islander, American Indian, Alaska Native, and white women in the US. And because of this, I urge women of all ages to prioritize their breast health and listen to their bodies, for it was this simple act that saved my life.

If you need help on conducting a self breast exam, check out these tips from the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s website. You will also find more in-depth articles related to breast cancer, as well as steps to take. Remember, not taking action doesn’t change the results.

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