Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Big Bust Self Exam Story

"Today I am handing you over to my friend Gemma who wanted to share her story with you because in order to have good breast health we have to overcome fear and that's not always easy. Here's her honest and familiar story xx"

Finding a Lump
One Monday in April I was in the shower and decided to do a breast exam. I am ashamed to say that I am a bit slap dash when it comes to self-exams, I kind of do them (a squeeze here and there) but it had been a few months since I had done a proper one. As I was doing my exam, I felt not one but two lumps in my right breast. After the initial panic, I tried to calm down and re-did the exam and determined that there were definitely two lumps in my breast.

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I work in healthcare so the rational side of me knew that 8 out of 10 breast lumps are benign, but the irrational (and terrified) side of me instantly turned to the worst possible scenario.

Plucking Up The Courage to See a Doctor
I decided to wait a couple of weeks before seeing my doctor to see if the lumps went away later in my menstrual cycle and in that time, I managed to wind myself up into a total mess. I read pretty much every blog and website about breast cancer I could find. I also physically bruised my right breast by feeling the lumps every few hours to see if they were still there!
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Finally I got my act together. I knew that for the good of myself and my family I had to deal with whatever was causing the lumps and went to see my doctor. My doctor confirmed that there was at least one lump and we needed to take action quickly. As I am only 35 I was recommended an ultrasound rather than a mammogram.

Testing the Lump with Ultrasound and Mammogram
Ultrasounds are less invasive and can pick up findings easier in younger women such as myself, who may have denser breasts. I had an ultrasound the following day and the technician confirmed that there was a suspicious lump in my right breast – approx 1cm in diameter. The radiologist recommended that the lump needed to be examined further and I was sent for a mammogram.

Even the term mammogram terrified me. However, with my husband supporting me every step of the way, two days later I went and had the mammogram. All I could think of in the waiting room as I was waiting for the doctor to call me was, ‘I’m 35, I have a 2 year old, I run half marathons, I go to Pilates, I am in the best shape of my life – this doesn’t make sense’. But then life doesn’t make sense sometimes does it? In that waiting room I can honestly say I wanted to run away as fast as my legs would take me. I didn’t want the mammogram, I didn’t want the probable biopsy, I just wanted to go home. However, at home I had a husband and 2 year old who needed me to be around and to be healthy so I went through with both tests.

I cannot say enough good things about the Women’s Health Center where I had my mammogram and biopsy. It is a centre that specializes in women’s conditions and the whole environment is very feminine and as non-clinical as possible. My radiologist and technicians were amazing, reminding me that 8/10 breast lumps are benign, and that my lump appeared to be that way –but they wanted to be 100% sure not 99% sure, hence all of the tests. Again the rational side of me wanted to believe them, but the waiting between each test was excruciating.

The Results
A couple of days later I got confirmation that my lump was in fact benign! Ecstatic and grateful does not begin to describe how I felt – and still do. However, I got a warning and a kick up the bum I needed to be more vigilant about self-exams and well woman visits in general. No longer will I delay such important exams.

Between finding my lump(s) and getting my biopsy results, I read too many stories from women, of all ages, who are less lucky than me. Their ‘99% probably nothing lump’ was breast cancer – in some cases at an advanced stage. No-one is immune to breast cancer and less than 15% of women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease.

Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women in North America. Everyone knows someone who has battled this disease. Both self-breast exams and well woman visits are vital because they really do save lives.
There are plenty of resources that provide great advice on how to carry out breast self-exams:
Visit the website

If in doubt see your doctor and get a medical opinion; I rush my son to the doctor if there is anything wrong with him, and after this experience I have learned that I need to do the same for myself. Make it a priority for yourself to go for regular well woman visits. For those of you in the US, due to the Affordable Care Act, all insurance companies now provide access to well woman visits for free, which gives you even more reason to get checked.

A New Relationship with My Boobs
I have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with my boobs. The attention my ‘great boobs’ have received over the years has been both flattering and frustrating. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve shouted ‘there is more to me than just a pair of boobs’ I would be a rich lady! However, in general I am very grateful for what I inherited from my mum.

A few years ago I gave birth to my gorgeous son who I happily nursed for 10 months. Post-nursing my big full boobs simply deflated and like many new mums I have been overly harsh on my new body shape – particularly my boobs. After this scare, I am so much more grateful for my boobs! Yes they may not be as full as they used to be, but they are still amazing and most importantly they are healthy! With the help of Claire at Butterfly Collection I celebrated my healthy boobs by getting measured for the first time since I had my son and treated myself to lots of new beautiful lingerie. Now I celebrate my boobs and promise to look after them in the way they deserve.

Disclaimer: Please note these are my personal opinions not those of my employer.


  1. I had a scare when I was 38 weeks pregnant almost exactly like this. Needless to say they rushed me to have an exam the next day...looked benign but needed to be sure. I had to have a biopsy while I was nursing my 6 week old son. The biopsy and mammogram was painless but the recovery while nursing sure wasn't. however I was so thankful to know it was benign. Still I was supposed to go back for a check up 6 months later which would have been this month and find myself putting it off all over again. But I think this post has given me the strength to go get it checked out, especially as I think I've found another lump though my original has shrunk.

    1. As unnerving as the prospect of something can be the reality of dealing with it is always better. Most lumps and bumps are completely benign (and as you have a history of benign lumps you may just be predisposed to them). Summon up your courage and book an appointment (make sure you have something good happening the same day whether it's your favourite meal or seeing a great friend - life is all about balance xx)