Breast cancer wasn’t a personal issue for me until my sister, Andra, was diagnosed in 2008 with stage 2 breast cancer. According to her doctors, early detection meant that she had a 90% survival rate of at least five years. She recently celebrated nine years cancer free!
Her treatment has included a double mastectomy with reconstruction, removal of 22 axillary lymph nodes, 35 rounds of radiation, a partial hysterectomy, and nine years on an oral chemotherapy drug. Her best advice for all women? Know your body and trust your instincts! If you don’t already have a breast care routine established here are some ways you can be proactive about your health:
Self examinations are simple to do. Become familiar with the look and feel of your breasts. Set a reminder on your phone or mark the date in your planner each month to remind yourself of this important self-care act. Breast examinations should never replace an annual check-up with your doctor, but knowing the look and feel of your unique breasts will alert you to any changes. Check out these tips for performing a self-exam. If you feel something out of the ordinary, don’t panic! Talk with your doctor and pat yourself on the back for knowing your body well enough to notice a change. It’s not uncommon for women to feel lumps in their breasts. Not all breasts are created equal — some women have lumpy breasts to begin with. Changes in how your breasts feel could be brought on by hormone fluctuations related to your cycle, or could be indicative of a benign fibrous growth. Finding a lump does not equal breast cancer, but it should be the impetus for a conversation and follow-up with your doctor.
You owe your family and yourself an annual exam with your doctor. If your age or family history suggests that a mammogram is in order, do it! The few minutes of discomfort you experience will be negated by the peace of mind you get from an all-clear report and from knowing that your doctor has a baseline image of your breasts with which to compare future exams.
Did you know that proper nutrition isn’t just an act of self-care for your heart health, but for your breasts as well? Your body performs optimally when it is properly fed. A healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and free of pesticides will boost your immune system and ensure that your body is feeling and performing its best. MD Anderson offers these tips for managing your cancer risk by making wise diet choices.
Exercise, like nutrition, is a great way to make sure your body is performing and feeling its best. The American Cancer Society recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week in their Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention. Being at a healthy weight lowers your risk of cancer, as does losing even a little if you consider yourself to be overweight.
My sister says that a healthy attitude and a positive outlook on life are just as important as diet and exercise when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. Practice self-care every day by establishing a routine of beginning and ending your day with peace, gratitude, and joy. Mama, you deserve the time it takes to care for yourself! We can’t take care of our families without first taking care of ourselves- it’s not a selfish act, it’s an act of love. Take a look at my Pinterest Self-Care board for some ideas on how to establish a self-care routine.
Try to minimize stress. I know . . . All the mamas in the house just let out a loud eye roll and a, “Yeah, right.” Being a mom is hard. In addition to a good self-care routine, have a few de-stressing tools in your toolkit for those times when you feel overwhelmed or anxious. Deep breathing exercises, yoga, and maybe a little reading for fun go a long way to help your body (and mind) relax and lower cortisol levels in your body. While stress itself isn’t widely believed to cause cancer, it can contribute to behaviors that may have negative effects on your health, which may in turn increase your risk of cancer. We all know that stress can be hard on your body, and it can be difficult to take time for ourselves when we’re in the middle of so much adulting, but it’s important! Find time to listen to music you love, go for a walk, and get in some kid (and grown up) snuggles. Your body will thank you!
I’m all about cutting corners to make my life easier, but breast care isn’t one of those areas that any of us should be willing to sacrifice. Show the girls some love . . . get to know them well. You’re worth it!