Viewpoint: Being ‘breast aware’

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    By Gretta Parkinson

    I found myself in Paris. I became smitten with the sidewalk cafes, the street performers, the architectural wonders and the flower boxes in all the windows.

    My time spent in Europe was a dream ? it was almost perfect ? until the day I found something else in Paris: a lump in my right breast. I had one day left in Paris and I spent it ridden with fear and anxiety.

    I?m the daughter of a radiologist who specializes in mammography, so I knew this particular irregularity could not be good news.

    I had been back in the States for three months before I went into my father?s office for an ultrasound. What the friendly female doctors (who were not my dad) found was a 2 cm fibroadenoma, a non-cancerous mass of solid tissue believed to be the result of an increased sensitivity to estrogen levels.

    Although my father told me I had other options like a needle biopsy or clinical follow-up, I wanted it out. My body, my choice, right? I went under the knife four days later.

    I had a local anesthetic and few distractions, so I chatted it up with my surgeon, Teresa Reading, to keep my mind off the procedure. She went to Wellesley.

    Dr. Reading removed a mass the size of a bouncy ball from my body, and my dad and I rushed the specimen over to pathology. The results were benign, and I was sobered, relieved and much more prudent in terms of my personal health.

    Doctors tell girls as young as 12 years old to start practicing routine self breast-exams, but I don?t know anyone who actually does.

    Having gone through this process, let me be one of the many to say, ladies, let?s start taking care of ourselves.

    According to Dr. Susan Love?s ?Breast Book? (go ahead and snicker), fibro- adenomas are the most common cause of biopsy for adolescents and young adults. That?s us.

    A fibroadenoma is harmless in itself and doesn?t necessarily have to be removed, unless it is a ?complex fibroadenoma,? which might have an increased risk of subsequent cancer.

    One out of three fibroadenomas is complex, so it?s probably a good idea to get yourself checked out if you have one.

    Only one out of 10 breast lumps seen in a clinic are malignant, but it is still a good idea even for college-age women to follow some simple guidelines for breast awareness.

    No giggling. We can be adults about this.

    – Be familiar enough with your body to know what is normal for you,

    – Learn what changes to look and feel for

    – When you detect a change, contact your doctor as soon as possible

    – And in about 20 years, at the age of 40 as recommended by the American Cancer Society, begin having annual mammograms.

    So now that almost 20,000 of my fellow Cougars know as much about my personal life as Intermountain Health Care, am I embarrassed? Well, a little.

    But my pride is worth so much less than the well-being of my female peers and if my little scare will encourage other girls to be breast aware, then a little exposure on my part (pun intended) is worth it.

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