In August, I noticed a large lump in my breast when I was taking a shower. It looked sort of bruised and occasionally hurt. I knew that none of this was normal and I assumed the worst. I tried to focus on other things and work toward my future. But the same thoughts always crept back into my mind: “what will I do if I’m diagnosed with breast cancer?”
As a relatively positive person, I tried to make light of the situation but the light was often hard to find. It flicked on and off, sometimes distracting me from my fears and sometimes leaving me in the dark, crying into my pillow and endlessly Googling my symptoms. When I looked online and spoke to medical professionals, I kept seeing and hearing, “you’re young so it’s probably a benign condition.”
But I also knew that though breast cancer is uncommon among young people, it is not unheard of, either. I am not special – it could affect anyone. It could affect me.
The month of October was the hardest for me. My concerns about my health consumed me. Any free time I had was spent Googling breast cancer symptoms. I knew this wasn’t a good or healthy thing to do. I knew this that wasn’t the best way to get information and that I was scaring myself. But I didn’t know how to talk about it. I bottled up my feelings, trying to keep up with my daily schedule of being a college student and feeling like the only young person who had to deal with this. I am not the only young person who has dealt with something like this. If you notice breast abnormalities at a young age, you’re not alone.
This wasn’t the first time I had a breast lump. I had another when I was 16 and it wasn’t removed at that time. I had an ultrasound and was told that the lump was benign. My doctors told me to keep watching it. When I found the second lump, I still had the first one too. I didn’t want to have them checked because I was afraid of the results. However, getting them checked was so important for my health, even though it was scary. The second lump was uglier and more obvious than the first one, and I wasn’t advised to simply watch it. After having an ultrasound, I was told that it was probably benign, but I should have a needle biopsy to make sure. Because of my fears, the appearance of the lump, the desire to just get them out of my body, and a variety of other reasons, I opted to have both of the lumps surgically removed instead. I was shaking when my surgeon’s office called me. Both lumps ended up being benign. Now, I realize the importance of checking my breasts for abnormalities. I understand the importance of valuing my health and my body and taking care of it, even when I might get results that I really, really don’t want to hear.
It’s easy to find pink merchandise and people going around campus collecting money for breast cancer awareness during the month of October (or anytime). It’s not that those efforts are inherently bad. Some organizations are controversial but that’s a whole different story. With all of this “breast cancer awareness,” though, why was I still so unaware about breast conditions?
I think there’s an additional awareness component missing – though various awareness campaigns might remind people that the issue exists and bring attention to it, the color pink never taught me anything about my own breast health. I knew virtually nothing before this experience. I had never seen a pamphlet about breast conditions until I went to see a surgeon. I heard “check yourself” again and again but I didn’t realize the importance or how it might affect me.
Evidently, I’m not a medial professional and cannot provide medical advice. Everyone’s experience is different.
But I hope we can begin to expand the conversation and advocate for more awareness, research and access to information for young women. For all women.