Our message this World Cancer Day: "Know your normal"
“Know your normal” is one of the key messages we share here at Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, and this World Cancer Day (4 February) we want to remind Kiwis why this is so important.
Knowing your normal isn’t about looking for cancer, says our nurse lead Natalie James, “it’s about regularly checking your breasts so you can get to know what they normally look and feel like.
“That way, if you find anything unusual, you can get it checked by a doctor right away.”
She adds that the best way to survive breast cancer is through early detection and BCFNZ wants women to empower themselves to be breast aware, as it could safe their life.
Here are some tips from six Kiwi women about knowing your normal:
For Tessa Leonard-Graham, getting to know your body is the most important message she can send. The mother of four from Christchurch started regular self-checks after finding a benign breast lump in 2017. After noticing changes to her left breast in May last year, she was then diagnosed with an extremely rare and aggressive type of cancer in one breast and a different type in the other.
“I tell all the women I know that you have to get to know your own body, there’s no point having shame about it.”
Auckland nurse Scarlet Gandola agrees, saying there’s no harm in going to a doctor to find out there’s nothing wrong but if there is, it’ll get dealt with quicker and you’ll know you’ve done everything in your power to have helped yourself, she says.
Scarlet was diagnosed last June after finding a lump just below her left nipple: “Even though I didn’t do proper checks, I knew it wasn’t normal and that could’ve been what saved me.”
Andrea Kennedy discovered her breast cancer after feeling pain in her chest while doing push ups at the gym. She knew about the concept of self-checking and had done cursory breast checks in the shower but it was never something she thought much about.
“My message to women is that even though we are all so busy in our lives, it’s so important to know our own bodies. The second you notice anything even slightly off, don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
Alice Down felt certain that the lump she had discovered in her breast was a cyst – her best friend had found a lump a few months earlier which was a cyst, so why should hers be any different?
“Her scare never prompted me to check my breasts – it was a missed opportunity that I regret. I’m educated, I’ve seen the awareness campaigns, but I just never thought cancer would happen to me.
After her diagnosis, Alice became really open to talking about cancer: “I hated wearing a wig and would think if my bald head made people uncomfortable, maybe they would check their boobs when I didn’t check mine.”
Amie Turner discovered a lump in her breast as she was getting into the shower and immediately saw a GP. She was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and says early detection saved her life.
“I could see how fast my tumour grew – by the time I started treatment, it was visibly sticking out. If I’d thought, ‘let’s just see what happens’, or not bothered getting it checked and with the average survival of triple negative breast cancer being so low, I would be in a much worse position than I’m in now.
“You have to know what is normal for you. Once you notice anything unusual, you have to get checked because no one is ever going to be as invested in your health as you.”
Jaydene Dixon Komene gets a lot of shocked reactions from people when she tells them about her breast cancer diagnosis, given she was only 27 when she found a lump. She was glad she acted when she did, but wished she had been more vigilant about checking her breasts.
“I never really knew what I was doing, but I’d just have a feel to make sure everything was normal. I do wish I was more self-aware of my body, if I’d loved my body, I probably would’ve thought more about checking my breasts.”
However, as our lead nurse Natalie says, there’s no ‘right’ way to do a self-check: “It’s as simple as touch, look, check.”
We can help you to know your normal and take care of your breasts – learn more here.