Breast health & breast cancer prevention, let’s talk!
Breast cancer awareness and prevention | Why it’s important to self-check, get regular mammogram screenings and to tell to our female friends and family members
Breast Cancer Awareness Podcast : Episode 71
Breast Cancer Screenings | Mammogram Screenings
It’s benign!!! But I want to share my breast cancer screening experience with you, right from the beginning in case it can be of help to anyone else. By increasing breast cancer awareness hopefully we can get people diagnosed earlier and cured successfully.
Here’s everything I learned along the way including:
- Questions to ask your nurses and doctors
- How the different tests feel (are they painful, etc)
- How much does a mammogram and biopsy cost?
- Why it’s important to share what’s going on with your female family members anything that could possibly be genetically passed on.
- How to prepare for a mammogram and biopsy
- Breast cancer support groups and resources.
Everything’s under headings so you can’t jump to what you’re looking for if you don’t want to read the whole thing.
Before I get too far into this, I’m not a medical professional or a Mum so I’m not going to pretend to know how to approach this with kids, that’s entirely your call. None of this is medical advice but my experience and what I wish I’d known before to have some idea of what to expect, etc.
Breast cancer awareness | Fighting breast cancer together
I’m being vulnerable in sharing this personal experience with you because I think breast health and breast cancer awareness is important to talk about. But in saying that, please be kind with your comments and keep this a place of positivity.
These are the things instead of wishing my friends knew, I’m putting out there. So let’s jump in and talk about our breast health!
Ask for a Breast Cancer Screening
A few months ago I posted on my Instagram stories about why to have a mammogram and my experience of it.
As soon as I turned 40 I asked my Doctor to schedule a mammogram for me. It wasn’t because I felt a lump or had any signs I wanted to check out but because I’d read that was the age we should start getting them if you don’t have a family history of breast cancer.
What to expect with a Mammogram
Mammogram No. 1:
This was pretty straight forward. I didn’t have to prep for it, just show up without deodorant or body lotion and disrobe on the top half into a disposable surgical gown that opened at the front.
6 years ago I’d asked my plastic surgeon before I had implants if they’d effect my mammograms in anyway and he said No, that they’re used to doing it.
Do mammograms hurt?
My plastic surgeon was right in that respect (about not affecting them being able to fo a mammogram) but what he didn’t say was that it’s more painful! They have to squish your implants out of the way before clamping you in place in the machine. Or in more technical terms:
“Implant displacement views, or Eklund views, allow improve visualization of breast tissue in women with cosmetic implants…patients with implants should inform their breast imaging center that they have cosmetic implants. This technique involves pushing the implant to the chest wall and then pulling the breast tissue forward.” Medscape.com
The mammogram’s over pretty quickly (no more than a few minutes) but be prepared for some discomfort. So try not to schedule around when you’re having your period and your breasts are more tender.
I was told by the technician that because it was my 1st mammogram and I have implants, they may call me back for more imaging to know what my ‘normal’ is and look for changes to that each time I go back.
So when I got called back for a 2nd mammogram I wasn’t too worried…
This was about 2 months after my 1st mammogram as my results got sent to the wrong doctor and no one was returning my calls from the doctors office when I called to get my results. Finally, someone called me back and said I needed to schedule a 2nd mammogram.
I arrived thinking everything was normal and ok. However, they’d also scheduled me for an ultrasound which I hadn’t been told about and that’s when I started to think it might not be normal.
No one told me why they were doing this and I didn’t know until I looked under my patient forms they had me fill in that day. There I found my doctors results at the bottom which said ‘breast calcifications.’
I’d never even heard of breast calcifications and no one had told me at that point that I had them or explained what they were, so my mind was going a million miles an hour and I started googling in the waiting area…
Do NOT do a me, do not google! If you have a question/questions then ask a medical professional because the web just seems to tell you the worst case scenarios. Otherwise, you’ll have a scratch and think you’re dying!
The ultrasound was totally painless and easy. It took about 15-20 minutes and then they took the images to the physician to make sure they had what they needed before letting me go. I’d recommend wear a separate top and warm bottoms as it can be cold with the ultrasound gel and bare top half.
The whole experience took about 2 hours total to check-in, have the mammogram and ultrasound. However, a lot of this time was waiting so bring a book or phone.
Mammogram and Ultrasound Results | What’s next
They called the next day to schedule a biopsy because they found calcifications (this was the first time they’d shared this with me, before I’d just seen it on paperwork) but what I didn’t know was that they were in 3 locations until they told me on this call.
What are breast calcifications?
Calcifications are small deposits of calcium that show up on mammograms as white specks or dots on the soft tissue background of the breasts and are a frequent finding on mammograms. They’re not connected to the calcium in your diet and can be caused by many things and can be markers something maybe going on but I don’t want to speak on anything medical. BUT don’t jump to any conclusions, let the doctors and nurses figure it out for you. I know that means having a ton of patience!
Oncology Center follow up appointments
Also, they wanted to book me in with a breast specialist at the Oncology center, which is where it got stressful for me. Why did they want to book me in with an Oncologist and a surgeon at the Cancer Center before I’d even had a biopsy? Are they seeing something they really don’t like on the mammograms.
It was really hard not to let my thoughts jump everywhere. In hindsight I could’ve probably asked at the time but I was listening to their instructions and my mind was blanking on much else.
Some of you reading this may think I’m being dramatic but everyone handles situations differently. There’s no right or wrong, normal or weird on how you personally deal with things. Everyone has different ways of reacting and coping mechanisms. I found it cathartic to workout hard and do personal video diaries that got it off my chest.
The reason they booked the appointment with the breast specialist was so that someone could explain the biopsy results to me regardless of whether it was benign or malignant.
“The good news is that 80% of women who have a breast biopsy do not have breast cancer.” NationalBreastCancer.Org
A breast biopsy is a test that removes tissue or sometimes fluid from the suspicious area. These are then examined under a microscope and tested to check for the presence of breast cancer.
This day seemed to take forever to arrive from scheduling it. They were great about scheduling it quickly after my second mammogram and ultrasound, but you know what it’s like when your brain’s going a million miles an hour and is all over the place. You just want to get it done, to get the results and move on, whatever that is. I wanted to be able to schedule my life, get going and have the weight lifted.
Questions to ask before your biopsy
What kind of biopsy am I having done? Mine was stereotactic, which is a special type of large core needle biopsy.
How should I prepare for it? I was told no fish oils, blood thinners, aspirin or NSAIDs or vitamin E.
Can I eat and drink beforehand? I had an appointment first thing in the morning and was told to eat a light breakfast since I’d be lying on my stomach for a while but it’s different depending on what you’re having done and when.
What is the downtime? Mine was 24 hours no lifting/working out, 48 hours no showering/bathing and 7 days no baths, swimming, sauna, etc.
What should I wear? e.g. loose comfy clothing-a top and bottoms (not a dress) and a bra (if they’re going to pad you with ice afterwards).
Do they accept my medical insurance? What is the cost? Mine was $666 (Really?! They couldn’t fix it by a dollar to make it less inauspicious!).
How long should I expect to be there? Mine was 30 minutes before and then a 90 minute appointment.
Will I be able to drive myself home? I could as I had a local not general anesthetic so you need to ask.
Other things that are good to know: Don’t wear any jewelry, lotion or deodorant. Take your insurance card, ID and method of payment. You might also want to take a jacket or sweatshirt as it can get cold when you’re applying your icepacks.
What to Expect on the Day of the Biopsy
You’ll start by filling in your paperwork and paying. If you have implants, on the paperwork it does warn you there’s a chance they can rupture in the procedure. I’m not saying this to worry you, but to give you a heads up and try and tell you absolutely everything. Obviously, you need to do it regardless as it’s more important to have the biopsy.
Then they’ll have you disrobe on your top half and put on a hospital gown that’s open in the front before they explain everything to you. So you might want to wear warm, comfortable pants/bottoms.
I went to Steinberg Diagnostic Medical Imaging on Tenaya Way, Las Vegas. My nurse was really thorough in her explanations before she had me lie face down on a table with my breasts through a hole and my head turned to one side on a pillow.
They even covered me in a blanket to keep me warm so it really wasn’t that uncomfortable until they clamp your boobs into position.
How do they do mammograms with implants?
If you have implants (mine are under the muscle), the positioning was the most uncomfortable part, where they have to maneuver them out of the way to get to the tissue they want to biopsy.
Once they have you in position, they’ll take images/x-rays to see if they’re able to access the calcifications or whatever they’re trying to biopsy in that position and if they can’t they’ll reposition you. It took 3 times to reposition them to exactly where they needed to be and in the best place to try and avoid vessels.
Once they have you in position you get used to it pretty quickly. They’ll then map out the coordinates of where they’re going to be taking the tissue samples from, then the physician will come in and give you the local anesthetic. They said it would feel like a bee sting but it really wasn’t even that bad, it was a quick and small prick and then it all thankfully went numb.
Are biopsies painful?
I personally did not feel the biopsy at all, they did a great job with the numbing. I could just hear it, the noises were the weirdest part. There’s a little bang/click before they start that they’d warned me about and the other nurse had her hands on my back to keep me in place as it’s natural to jump. It was like being at the dentist and hearing that vacuuming type of noise, which is the suction from a syringe.
The biopsy itself was so quick and the most important thing they said for me to do was to keep still and relax (as much as possible in that position).
After taking the tissue they needed, they put a tiny titanium marker in (don’t worry, it won’t show up on airport security) to mark where the biopsy was done for future reference or in case a surgeon needs to locate it they can do so easily.
They then put some sterile strips and a bandaid on (the bandaid got taken off that evening just before bed and the sterile strips will come off in their own time) and gave me 2 icepacks to ice for 15-20 minutes afterwards. 1 was to apply immediately and the other to put in my bra for another 15-20 minutes and drive home with after the post biopsy mammogram. They said that if I felt any discomfort later on I could ice again.
About 20 minutes after the biopsy, I had another 2D mammogram which was a lot less painful than the original 3D mammograms because they’re not clamping you so hard. They just wanted to make sure the marker was in place and whatever else they need to check.
The day after the biopsy
The following day, the nurse called me to check everything was ok which it was. I had my biopsy on Monday and got the results Friday late morning. Now, that was a long 4 days!
It felt like the longest time waiting for the results. I cried with relief when they called and told me it was benign! I still had to see the breast specialist at the Comprehensive Cancer Center for a check up and to review my results, which they gave me a copy of. But I’m clear and don’t have to see them for another 6 months when I’ll have another mammogram and follow up appointment.
Day 7 post biopsy: I’m still bruised and my sterile strips are still on so I’ll update you as to the mark it leaves but it’s not supposed to leave anything more than a tiny pen tip sized mark.
5 months later: The biopsy has left a small raised scar that I’m using Biocorneum scar cream (day and night) on but it’s a reminder to keep going for regular screenings. I have my 6 month check up Mammogram next week so I’ll update this again after my follow up at the Oncologist in January.
Breast Cancer Awareness |Why you need to tell your female family members
Please share your medical history with your family! It’s so important and your responsibility to let your family know of anything that could possibly be genetically passed on. For the Comprehensive Cancer Center I had a long patient questionnaire form and part of that was family medical history with cancer. You need to know that information.
So now I know it’s my responsibility to tell them, so that if and when they’re filling in their forms they have all of the information they need. Also, so that if it is genetic, they can get tested earlier and not wait until they reach a certain age.
I had told a couple of my family members before the biopsy (1 because we talk about everything and 2 to make sure I had our family medical history correct), but I didn’t tell all of the female members in my family until afterwards.
I felt that there was no need to worry them before I had results and I wanted to be able to give them a definitive answer. Personally, I thought that was fairer, so they knew what is was, what to expect and they know what’s going on but they don’t have that worry.
Why I recommend telling your girlfriends
It can be daunting when you think very few others have gone through this or the only people you do know who have, have had breast cancer. However, talking about this, I’ve learned that so many others either have a family history of it so are being tested annually or are considering preventative surgery, or have benign calcifications or lumps.
Talking to each other makes us feel less alone and lets us know that there are so many instances of it being benign. Yes, there are some that aren’t, 1 in 8 will experience breast cancer (National Breast Cancer Foundation) in their lives but let’s get the conversation going and make sure women are having mammograms and don’t feel alone.
If you need support | Breast Cancer Support Groups
If you’re a medical professional or know one that would like to add to this post, be quoted, be a guest on my podcast Glamour & Gains, or have any edits, please contact me or have them contact me. I’d really love your input.
Get Involved by Advocating for Breast Cancer Awareness & Medical Advancement
There are so many ways to support or donate to different cancer awareness charities and organizations such as Power in Purple (photos below and limited edition cosmetics for a cause linked above), American Cancer Society, Relay for Life, Making Strides, Susan G Komen, Cancer Research UK to name a few.
If you want to get involved in Breast Cancer advocacy, the Power In Purple campaign is a group of community leaders who are committed to raising awareness and funds for American Cancer Society Relay For Life.
“Our mission is to save lives and celebrate life. Your support of Power In Purple will help us to move one step closer toward achieving a world free from the pain and suffering of cancer.” Power in Purple
Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is breast cancer awareness month. So for the whole month of October 2020, all sales commissions I make through my profile on the LiketoKnow.it app will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
All of the details on how to support breast cancer research and the outfits: Shop for a cause and support breast cancer research.
Let’s work together to get a big donation sent out at the end of the month!
Then follow me on Liketoknow.it @evedawes
Screenshot any of the photos of the outfits you like
You’ll then be emailed shoppable links to that outfit.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month | Shop Pink For A Cause
Get your Limited edition vegan pink lipstick. From October 1st – October 31st for breast cancer awareness month, 15% of all sales of this lipstick will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
If you have any questions or just want someone to chat to if you’re going through it please feel free to reach out. Although, I can’t answer any medical questions, I can offer support, a listening ear and answer questions I might not have been clear on in the post or that you want me to elaborate on.
If you’ve had a similar experience drop a comment below or just a ‘me too’ so other women know they’re not alone.
Women’s Lifestyle Blog
Besides screening and early detection, there are other ways to minimize our risk of cancer such as wearing SPF year round and using it properly:
Eve Dawes is a Blogger, Podcaster, Mrs. England World 2020, a WBFF Pro Diva, SAG-AFTRA actress, NASM certified Personal Trainer, Founder of Dawes Custom Cosmetics and GlamourandGains.com. Eve's also the host of BFF (beauty, fitness & fashion) segment on Spill The Tea Live! The show for British Expats. Eve has over 15 years experience in the fashion world, is an avid traveller and cruelty-free beauty advocate.