What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
For a brief, glimmering moment in my preadolescent years, I had bigger boobs than all my friends.
It didn't last long. As soon as everyone else linked their cares to the furious and snarling Puberty Engine, I would fall behind, and stay there. It wasn't a huge surprise, to be fair -- my mom was quite notoriously flat-chested as I was growing up, a point that, like most small-bosomed women, was both a source of freedom (bra-wearing as option and not necessity!) and annoyance (no big boobs to boob out with).
I topped out as a B-cup -- well, really an A+ cup, but the bra size I generally wear is 46B, because what 46A bras exist are neither particularly comfortable or cute, and are not much cut for dresses that would show cleavage if significant cleavage I had. So a 46B it is, and I MOSTLY fill it out. Indeed, my biggest problem tends to be with swimwear, which is always cut for significantly larger boobs than I can supply and into which I have historically sewn a properly fitting-bra so as to mitigate this problem.
I feel like I know my tits pretty well, all things considered. And yet, here's the thing: for most of my life I have pretty much never done regular monthly self-exams. Part of this is just avoidance -- I'm sort of put off by doing exams because on some level I'm afraid I might feel something weird and then have to freak out about it. But part of it is also that I never feel like I know how to do it right.
Thus I was pretty psyched when, a few years ago, the American Cancer Society decided to reframe regular self-exams as optional, in light of gathering evidence that found that these checks didn't seem to improve your chances of being diagnosed, and may actually do damage by causing many women to have biopsies they don't need.
And this might be true. But the fact remains that of the three women my own age I've known to have breast cancer -- all of whom have survived, yay -- ALL THREE initially found their first lump by a self-exam. Two found said lumps within a few weeks of an annual physical in which their doctors performed an exam themselves and found nothing suspicious.
This is not to say that doctor checks aren't useful. Before I had a doctor who did annual breast checks as part of my regular pelvic exam, whenever I tried to do a self-exam I would rather stupidly mash the shit out of my boobs, which was unpleasant, and therefore led to me avoiding doing it. Turns out mashing is unnecessary, and the point is really just to become familiar with your boobish tissues; the idea is that if you know your boobs really well, you'll notice any changes, even if they're slight.
A doctor who sees you once a year? Probably not going to notice changes like you are, groping yourself on the regular so any new additions stand out to you.
We've all heard it before, but here's a refresher in how to do a self-exam. Also, BreastCancer.org has some useful self-feeling tips, like it's a good idea to do your exam at the same point in your monthly cycle since your boobs may feel different depending on where your hormones are at. Also, that you shouldn't freak out if you feel something that feels maybe lumpy possibly, since most boobs are not uniformly the smooth consistency of a bowl of expertly-prepared Jello instant pudding. Lumpiness may be normal for you -- the point is to notice any NEW lumpiness that changes from your regular lumptastic baseline.
They also suggest keeping a journal of your boob experiences. ACTUALLY, they suggest making boobmaps, on which you note your archeological breast findings and their locations so you remember what's normal and what's not. This is just hilarious enough that I might consider doing it.
So how about you? Do you guys do regular self-exams? If not, why not? Are you trying to be better about it? Let's talk tit health in comments.