Breast Cancer Prevention Month has been a month of reflection and education for me over the last few years. I’m someone that deeply values education and also feel pulled to share what I learn with the people I care about (Hi, you).
This month is a little different.
It started one weekday when I woke up and my chest was sore. I thought maybe it was just the way I slept and went about getting ready for the day.
The next day Clara Rose plopped down on me after a long day at school and intense pain shot into my chest.
As the days continued I noticed that getting dressed was uncomfortable, that my chest felt warm to the touch, and without getting into too much detail, things just weren’t the same.
I called my OBGYN and they scheduled an appointment for a month out.
Should I be concerned? Am I overreacting here? The lady on the phone didn’t seem concerned at all.
The pain and symptoms continued.
Where’d I turn next? Google of course.
Everything I searched didn’t line up with any specific issues. But I couldn’t shake the underlying nag I felt.
The next day I decided to call my primary care physician. I spoke with her nurse and there started the black hole that I stepped into for the next several days.
She politely said, “If I was you I would probably come in right away.”
From there it was an exam, which left my doctor’s face looking that calm kind of concerned ya know?
She found that my lymph nodes were swollen and she scheduled a mammogram.
She did a pregnancy test just to check and when it came back negative I awkwardly said “Well the test might not agree but that’s some positive news!” (Face+palm)
Then I waited.
In a room by myself. In the lobby by myself. Then the next day to hear my name from the ultrasound tech, by myself.
I walked into the dressing room to a binder that said:
I thought to myself, “Lord if this is part of my story then it’s part of my story. I pray your will be done for this situation in front of me and whatever happens, that it’s part of your plan for me and my family.”
The mammogram although not terrible just felt invasive.
I left feeling exposed, like when the back of your dress gets caught in your backpack in middle school.
This time for a long time in the crunchy paper shirt with my legs crossed and foot tapping.
The ultrasound tech came back to say that the doctor wanted more images and ordered an ultra sound.
I didn’t know if this was good or bad news but it felt like bad news.
I’ll spare you the details of the ultrasound. More waiting, more kind concerned looks.
The days felt longer+slower and I actually didn’t mind it.
I withdrew a little from social media and chatter and I thought a lot; about what would happen and what life would look like depending on the results. I thought about God’s plan for my life and even daydreamed a little about heaven.
Stanley had the look of someone who hadn’t slept in weeks (my poor husband) and in the evenings we sat together longer and didn’t say much. It was quiet.
My doctor called that evening to say that I did have a swollen lymph node but that there is no evidence of the C word.
Even though I felt peaceful throughout the whole process, after getting that call I felt like I had unknowingly been holding my breath for several days and instantly felt relief.
But I also felt/feel a little anger.
I didn’t tell anyone what was going on, with the exception of a close friend and the people I had to at work when I needed to leave for tests.
But when I shared the positive news with my friend we talked about how she recently heard of a young girl in high school that was diagnosed with breast cancer. That got me.
This isn’t normal.
Breastcancer.org predicted that the overall incidence of breast cancer is projected to double globally by 2040 and occur more frequently with younger women.
Again, not normal.
Breast Cancer Prevention Partners recently released a full prevention plan (300+pages but totally worth it if you’re the type to love all the info) that cites risk factors, includes in depth research, and poses systematic changes and interventions to have a longstanding and widespread positive impact.
I’ve included the links so you can check out the full resources but I can’t just leave it at that.
Friend, I share some of this information every year and every year the incidences still rise.
Here are the facts:
Puberty and breast development are starting earlier and earlier
Did you know that the earlier a girl gets her first period, the higher her risk for breast cancer later in life?
More adolescents and women take prescription hormones
Think hormonal replacements for menopausal women or you guessed it… birth control. The current trend is that girls are being prescribed birth control at younger ages and taking them longer.
Exposure to environmental pollutants and harmful hormone disrupting chemicals has increased
According to Breastcancer.org, “Some pollutants can directly damage our genes. Others can mimic estrogen or disrupt the normal hormonal balance and lead to abnormal breast cell growth.”
According to The Endocrine Society, they note that “the breast is especially sensitive to endocrine disrupting compounds, or EDCs “because its complex development involves growth, differentiation, secretory activity, and regression, all orchestrated by hormones, growth factors, and stromal factors.”
So what can you do?
You really can start small.
You can manage your stress through exercise and practicing mindfulness.
(Try to) get enough rest.
You can decrease your exposure to harmful plastics.
Select organic when possible.
You don’t have to do it all at once but what if we actively chose to pursue more mindful choices as the opportunity presents itself?
When you run out of your home cleaner, maybe you swap it for Branch Basics. When you have a little extra cash at the end of the month, maybe you purchase glass food storage, or when you run out of that face wash or baby wash you swap it out for something truly safer and better for you.
I’m filled with gratitude and a certain conviction that I’m not currently going through this right now. But the truth is that too many people are.
I hope you feel empowered after reading this, like you have some very tangible (and simple) practices that you can walk away with and share with friends and family.
Would you do that? Would you share this with friends and family that may need this information?
At the end of the day, there are a lot of things that are out of our control (like genetics and environmental exposure), but there are some things that we do in fact have control over and that we can pursue for better, longterm health.