Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Why It’s So Important To Do Self-Checks

It’s about to get a bit personal…

  • written by Joy Onu
  • 7 min read
  • 09 Oct, 2023

“Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women. Each year, 2.1 million women are affected. It is also responsible for 15% of all cancer-related deaths among women. More than 620,000 women died of breast cancer in 2018 alone. Although breast cancer is more prevalent in higher and upper-middle-income countries, disease rates are rising globally.” This is based on a study done by ASCO Journals.

According to this same study, Nigeria has one of the highest breast cancer mortality rates of all nations. Self awareness of breast cancer is extremely important when it comes to early detection of breast cancer and other similar irregularities. That’s why it is extra important to know every single detail about your breasts, no matter how old or young you are.

Breast Self-Exam Illustration || Health Matters
A few years ago, at a time when I had no idea that Breast self-examinations were a thing, I noticed the strangest thing one random day as I laid down. At first, it struck me as odd, but after countless google searches, I realized it was what people had referred to as a lump. It took me a couple months to take it seriously, but then after a while, I started to get paranoid, and that paranoia led me to believe that the lump in question grew even bigger with every day that passed.

By the start of a new year, I had summoned the courage to go see a doctor about it, chances were, he or she would tell me I was being super paranoid, and also wade me off using google to diagnose things. Inevitably, I knew this would mean telling my parents, and for the fear of not making it a bigger deal than it really was, I dreaded having the conversation with them.

Fast forward to a couple doctor visits, it was certain that I did in fact have a lump, and whether or not it was benign or cancerous was yet to be determined. That’s when I started to worry, but my mother worried ten times more. I remember she would always say she had gone through and wanted to go through all the dire conditions a woman could possibly go through, just so I wouldn’t have to. In a way, she wanted to carry all the burdens and spare me the trouble. While I appreciated her selfless sentiments, we both knew it didn’t work that way, in fact it was the opposite.

Some ailments are hereditary, take for instance the Breast Cancer Gene 1(BRCA 1) and the Breast Cancer Gene 2 (BRCA 2), it is known that if you inherit any one of these genes, you’re more likely to get breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other types of cancer. This is why it is super essential to know your family history, and to also get all the necessary tests done early in order to assess your risk factors.

This wasn’t the case for me, I still had to get through with the surgery for the lump to be taken out and tested before knowing my fate. The way my brain works, as opposed to crying over the worst case scenario, I made up fake scenarios. If the result came back positive or cancerous, I would just have to make sure my life turned out like “The Fault In Our Stars.” You know…the really sad movie where they’re dying but they find the greatest love of all time in each other? I knew real life didn’t work that way, but daydreaming helped to cover up the fear.

Fast forward to the day of the surgery, I was scared out of my mind. This was really happening to me, the surgery itself was exactly how you would imagine. There was no pain thanks to the local anesthetic given beforehand, I could feel the probing and sticking because I was awake for all of it. The surgeon was an expert, so I had nothing to worry about, but I found myself worrying about everything. 

There was another doctor in the operating room, and I don't think I could ever forget him in this lifetime or any other. He held my hand throughout the procedure, well maybe not throughout, he had a job to do. It was almost as though I was silently losing my mind and he could hear it. Whatever the case was, I don't see how I could have gotten through it without that one gesture (and the actual surgery of course).

My post surgery recovery time took a couple weeks, and in that time, I had no greater companions than the voices in my head, and Quora. I had read several personal stories ranging from, how long after surgery do you get the results? To…can a lump grow back, to what are the chances it is cancerous? To answer this last question, it could be benign, and it could be the opposite. The truth is, you probably won’t be able to tell by just feeling it or noticing other irregularities, that’s why it is so important to go to do self-checks regularly, and go to the hospital immediately you notice anything different 

The best way to conduct a self-check is by either standing or lying down, it is also very important to do this every month, especially a week after your period. If you sense anything that feels out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate to visit your doctor.

I remember wishing that I had more awareness around self-checks. It's enthralling to see the awareness now, especially during breast cancer awareness month. My lump turned out to be benign, but the doctor had said, if I hadn't come in, or left it in there for longer, it would have been a different story altogether. 

Not just during breast cancer awareness month, but every month, practice the habit of doing breast self-checks, examine every part and every corner. Early detection is so important, do not hold off on seeing a doctor when you notice a lump. It is also super important to note that there are other signs to look out for besides the lump, whatever the case may be, as soon as you notice anything slightly different, please act on it, don’t wait.

Singapore Cancer Society
Breast Cancer Awareness Month plays a huge role in helping women, and even men, to become more aware of the signs and issues linked to breast cancer. In order to raise awareness, it is essentially saving lives by educating more and more people on their risk factors, the signs to look out for, and lifestyle changes to make. We truly hope this article helps raise awareness, and most importantly, I hope it can help someone on their own personal journey.

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