Why Self Exams Matter

March 14, 2020

 

In 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. ‘You’ve got cancer.’ These aren’t words that you are ever ready to hear, but hear them I did. It was really quite a shock, because as you go through the process, mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies everyone wants to keep things positive. They say things like ‘I'm sure its just a fibroid’, or ‘everything will work out just fine.’ No one wants to say what we were all thinking and that’s ‘I’ve got cancer.’

 

I had been training for a fitness (bodybuilding) competition and was in probably the best shape I had been in my entire life. I was 45 years old, I weighed about 122 lbs and I was eating the cleanest diet I had ever eaten. There was limited fat, no dairy or sugar and all my carbs were complex carbohydrates. I was eating a lot of lean protein and plenty of veggies. I was working out lifting weights and doing plenty of cardio. I had taken my body fat down from 31% to 15% body fat. At 20% body fat, that is where you start getting down to the body fat of elite athletes.  I was feeling great.

 

It was a few weeks before my competition, I was doing a self exam on my breasts and felt a lump. I have to admit that I was more focused on my competition at this point instead of making an appointment to see a doctor. I only had a few more weeks to go and then I’d go to the doctor. So I made an appointment with my naturopath for after the competition and then got a referral for my mammogram. I had to wait another week to get in for my mammogram appointment after I got the referral from my ND.

 

It was almost five weeks later that I finally got my mammogram. I get to the office and the staff was so kind. I have to say this really took a lot of the stress out of this visit for me. This was my first mammogram and they seemed to be very impressed that I had found the lump on my own. We did the mammogram and they took multiple views. They showed me the results of the scans. There was nothing on them, they were clear. There was no lump to be seen anywhere on the scan. Now lucky for me I had found the lump and could feel it because there was nothing to be seen on that mammogram scan. Since they could also feel the lump, they decided to do an ultrasound on me. They got me in for the ultrasound right away and when they did the ultrasound, they didn’t see anything on the ultrasound either. They said my breast tissue is really dense and that it happens that they can’t see the lumps because they blend in with the breast tissue. They spent about 45 minutes doing the ultrasound because they just weren’t seeing anything even though they too could feel the lump. Finally the radiologist found an area that seemed to correspond to where we could feel the lump that had excess blood flow going to it.

 

As soon as the radiologist said there was excess blood flow, I knew that something wasn’t ‘right’. I knew that wasn’t a good sign. So they set me up for a biopsy for the next week in order to get samples of the area. They did another ultrasound and then did the biopsy. After they had taken their core samples, they inserted a tiny metal clip into my breast to mark the spot where they took the tissue samples from. Then they did another series of mammogram scans. This time when they showed me the mammogram results, the only thing you could see again was the tiny metal clip that they had implanted in me. The rest of the scan was literally blank. This was only slightly concerning to me at the time because I had never had a mammogram before, and they had nothing to compare my scans to. I really didn’t think that much of it, until 3 days later when the radiologist called me and uttered those three little words… ‘You’ve got cancer.’

 

There’s so many feelings and emotions that go along with hearing those words. However the thing that struck me at the time was the fact that NOTHING had shown up on my mammograms and ultrasounds. I was so angry, but the anger was shortly replaced with a sense of awe and wonderment. You see, for the series of events to play out like it did was nothing short of a miracle. It had all started with me gaining a bunch of weight. So I started working out with a personal trainer. It was the personal trainer who asked me if I wanted to do a fitness competition – at the time I had no idea what that was. So I trained for the competition, followed the diet and lost 16% body fat. The ONLY reason I found that lump is because I had dropped so much body fat – that I had lost two full bra cup sizes. Then I did my self exam – which I will admit I wasn’t doing every month. So there I was full of all these emotions, but the one emotion that you wouldn’t expect at that point in time was gratitude. Gratitude for a series of events that I couldn’t have planned if I wanted to. As well, gratitude for finding the lump myself, because the scans never picked anything up. There was no pain. There were no warning signs. I was feeling great and yet I had cancer.

 

I wanted to share this story because 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer. Breast cancer kills more women than all other cancers with the exception of lung cancer. In 2017 40,610 women are expected to die from breast cancer. A simple self exam could save your life – it saved mine. I get to tell this story because I did my self exam. Please relate this story to all the women in your life. Self exams can save lives!

 

http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics

 

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