fitness

It's time to show your breasts some love.

Pink Hope
Thanks to our brand partner, Pink Hope

It is pretty embarrassing to admit it, but the first time I had a breast check was when I was in my 30s. I just kept putting it off because I assumed, like so many of us do, that breast cancer wasn’t something I needed to think about yet.

I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family, so I had put it off.  “I’m low risk,” I’d say to myself, “I don’t have to worry”.  So I didn’t. Friends told me about finding lumps during a self-check, and I would think to myself “so glad I don’t have to worry about that”, and move on with my day.

Part of my avoidance was because I didn’t really know what to do.  I have larger breasts, and for most of my life I’ve avoided acknowledging them unless I absolutely have to. I strap them into a bra (or sometimes two, if I’m doing an exercise class) and I try to forget they’re there. (Which, admittedly, is no easy feat.)

So when I’d been given information about breast checks as a teen, I’d shrugged it off, I’d even made little jokes with myself about how if there was a lump I’d never find it anyway in amongst all that soft tissue.

"Part of my avoidance was because I didn’t really know what to do. " Image: iStock.

But then I went for my regular pap test and my doctor looked me in the eye and said: “Have you been doing regular breast checks?” I squirmed a little and told her no.

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“But we don’t have a family history,” I hastily added. “I’m sure it’s FINE.”

I want to assure you right now, before you read any further that it was fine. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen my doctor so displeased with me. Not even that time I burned my arm on the oven and let it get infected and didn’t go get it checked out for two weeks.

My doctor gave me a comprehensive lesson in self-checking, and she made sure all was good, before telling me again to have a feel around once a month to make sure it stayed that way.

Suitably chastened, I left the surgery and went on with my day. When I recounted this story to friends, they expressed surprise that my doctor had been so insistent.

“If you don’t have a history you don’t have to worry,” one said.

Regardless of family history, regular breast check ups are vital. Image: iStock.

I’ve since found out that attitude is pretty common, not just amongst my friends, but among women more generally.

According to the Breast Cancer Risk Study conducted by Galaxy Research, only 28 per cent of women say they feel confident checking their breasts. They also found that over half of all women think they are at a low risk of developing breast cancer. A further third don’t know what their risk is, and only 16 per cent think they’ve got a high risk of it.

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But the risk factors for breast cancer include being overweight or obese, drinking three or more glasses of alcohol a day and getting your period before your 12th birthday. If you’ve got ovarian cancer in the family, that’s a risk factor too.

Only 28% of women say they feel confident checking their breasts. Image: iStock.

Like the majority of Australian women, I’m overweight. And I drink a fair amount, maybe not quite three a day, but it all adds up. So I’ve got some risk factors going on. And I’m definitely not alone. More than half of all women can tick off at least one risk factor, and there’s even a handy online risk calculator to help you figure out exactly what your risk profile is.

If I’m being honest, I have to admit that one of the reasons it took me so long to start paying attention to my breast health is that I just didn’t want to think about it.

I didn’t want to be told something was wrong. I was like an ostrich, my head stuck in the sand, trying desperately to avoid the possibility that I might have a breast-related problem.  But if you are at a high risk, it’s so important to be screened regularly – even if you are under 50 and think maybe you don’t need to worry, it’s worth it for the peace of mind alone.

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And no matter what your risk factor, self-checks are vital. And if you’re anything like me, self-checking has been vital in making me acknowledge my boobs and learn to love them.

Start the conversation of breast checks amongst your friends. Image: iStock.

My grandmother’s best friend died of breast cancer, she was still young when she got it; I guess in her late forties. Vivacious, fun and smart – she never stopped pushing back. Her laughter and her gift for storytelling is a big part of my memories of growing up. It’s her I think of now, when I remind myself it’s time to check again.

Every month: For the rest of my life.  Because one risk factor alone doesn’t mean you’ll get breast cancer. But it does mean you should be vigilant, the price of not doing so is far too high.

Have you experienced an early detection from a regular breast checkup?

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