There was a boy in my sister’s grade in school who wrote a song that we all affectionately referred to as “The Boob Song.” It had several memorable verses and a rousing chorus that went something like “Everybody wants ‘em, everybody needs ‘em, they’re boobs BOOBS!”
I have long since forgotten the young composer’s name, along with some of the finer points of the song, but that chorus is forever burned into the deepest recesses of my memory and will not go away. Boobs. Titties. Chi-chis. Hooters. Ta-tas. Big ones, little ones, perky or saggy. We dress to hide them, make them look bigger, cover them up or reveal them. We spend a fortune on bras to push them up, minimize them, support them or simply strap them down. I have a friend whose bra doubles as a purse, storing everything from loose change to Driver’s License and possibly even a change of clothes.
And now that I’ve made you all incredibly uncomfortable or at least made you start to question my orientation, let me throw a few statistics at you. According to the American Cancer Society, here are some estimates for breast cancer in the United States in 2014:
- About 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
- About 62,570 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
- About 40,000 women will die from breast cancer
To put that into perspective, the number of new cases in 2014 will be equal to roughly double the size of the population of Lansing, Michigan. The number of breast cancer deaths is almost exactly equal to the population of the town I grew up in.
But there’s more.
- 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime
- Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women, second only to skin cancers.
- Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer.
- The chance that breast cancer will be responsible for a woman’s death is about 1 in 36 (about 3%).
It’s October. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We all put pretty pink ribbons on everything from ink pens to coffee mugs. We wear pink t-shirts with catchy slogans, and our sons wear bright pink socks with their football uniforms to increase awareness. We play silly games on Facebook and go braless for a day, or we spread funny memes about saving “Second Base” or whatever. We participate in 5K runs and bake sales and every possible kind of fundraiser there is.
All of that is great.
But there’s more.
Ladies, we need to talk. Put away the embarrassment and social niceties and pleasant little euphemisms and really talk.
All of the fundraisers and awareness campaigns won’t help if we don’t take a little bit of responsibility for our own health, our own bodies. We need to get our mammograms or breast ultrasounds. We need to go to the doctor for our annual visits and get that incredibly awkward and uncomfortable breast exam.
I know. Their hands are always cold. The person performing the mammogram invariably has bad breath or b/o, and they get so far inside your personal space that you feel like they owe you dinner and a movie afterward. They lift and squeeze and manhandle until you feel violated. And the basic exam in the doctor’s office isn’t much better; lying there exposed while a virtual stranger touches, presses and kneads one of the most personal and intimate parts of your body and you can’t do anything but count the ceiling tiles.
But there’s still more.
Ladies, these are your breasts, boobs, titties, or whatever. You should know them. You should be performing your own breast self-exam every single month. Again, I know; it’s awkward and uncomfortable. Do it anyway. Get your boyfriend or husband or girlfriend to help, if that makes it more pleasant. Whatever it takes. Just do it.
All the awareness campaigns and fundraisers in the world can’t do a bit of good if breast cancer goes undiagnosed.
My mom was 38 years old when she found the lump on her breast. It was the late 1970’s, and her doctor laughed at her for being worried. He told her that she was too young for breast cancer, and that lumps in that particular spot on the breast are never malignant.
He was wrong.
She underwent a modified radical mastectomy when I was in middle school. She went through chemotherapy and radiation and she beat the odds for a while because she was a pushy broad who refused to let a doctor dismiss her concerns. She lived long enough to see us all graduate, long enough to meet two of her future sons-in-law, long enough to hold her first grandchild.
She was 45 years old when it came back, 46 when she died seven months later.
She was not a statistic. She was Kay.
A few weeks ago, I learned that another one of my friends has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She is young and strong and otherwise healthy, and has a support network of friends and family that most of us could only dream of having. She is a kind soul, a beautiful person inside and out, with a wicked sense of humor and a terrific laugh. This world cannot afford to lose her.
She is not a statistic. She is Melissa.
It’s easy to get caught up in our day-to-day lives. Take care of the kids, manage the house, go to work, complain about the ex. It’s easy to worry about everyone else and put our own needs on the back burner. “I’ll do it next month,” we tell ourselves. “I’ll get my mammogram next year,” we say.
Knock it off.
Take care of yourselves, ladies. As embarrassing, awkward, scary and uncomfortable as it may be, you are the only one who can make this decision whether to take care of yourself or not. Early detection saves lives. Period.
And isn’t your life worth a few minutes of discomfort?