I have a confession to make: I have lumpy breasts. I know, I know, TMI as my 15-year old daughter would say (that’s Too Much Information for those of you who don’t speak teenager), but it is an important health fact for me to know about myself.
I first noticed this when I was 16 years old, way before I knew anything about breast self-exams or breast cancer. I was putting on a bathing suit when I felt a huge, hard lump in my left breast. It was about the size of a half-dollar coin. I was scared. What was that lump? Keep in mind this was 1981 — before people were really talking about breast cancer — but the first thing that crossed my mind even then was, “Am I going to lose my breast?”
It turned out to be just a cyst and the doctor was able to drain it. And as he was feeling for other potential problems, he said, “You have some lumps in there that I don’t think are a problem. The important thing is for you to know your own body and look for changes in your breasts.” He taught me how to do a breast self-exam, which was very progressive for that time period, and I’ve been doing them every month ever since.
“Look for changes.” It turns out this is probably the best health advice I’ve ever received. You can imagine if you’re a person with lumpy breasts and you’re doing a self-breast exam each month, you’d be nervous ALL THE TIME! Knowing my own body has helped me to discern what is normal for me. No two people are alike. Each of us is a unique individual with unique body quirks. Knowing your family health history is important. But knowing your own body and noticing changes that may be happening is just as important.
That’s how I found my skin cancer. I’ve noticed a few freckles, moles and age spots popping up as I’ve gotten older, but there was a spot on my shin that started getting bigger, redder and drier. I knew that wasn’t normal for me, so I had the doctor check it out. Not only did she remove that one, she found two more on the back of my leg I hadn’t noticed!
Being in tune with my body is also how I discovered my liver disease. A few years ago I started experiencing hot flashes, exhaustion and joint pain and thought it was probably early menopause. But when I went to the doctor, it turned out to be an autoimmune liver disease called primary biliary cirrhosis, or PBC. With daily medication and a few other lifestyle modifications I’m able to keep it in check, but if I hadn’t listened to my body and taken those changes seriously, I might be telling you a different health story today.
Writer and motivation speaker Denis Waitley said, “The winners in life treat their body as if it were a magnificent spacecraft that gives them the finest transportation and endurance for their lives.”
You wouldn’t notice a strange noise or dent in your car and not get it checked out and fixed, right? Shouldn’t we give our bodies that same attention? Let’s pledge to pay attention to all those lumps and bumps that make us who we are, as well as the ones that might be telling us we need a little work under the hood!
Chrys Peterson is a correspondent for ProMedica HealthConnect and spokeswoman for Friends for Life, a monthly newsletter for women that offers health and wellness advice with a focus on cancer prevention.