Monday, October 17, 2011

Friends, Enemies, Breasts

As I see all the attention given to Breast Cancer Awareness because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I find myself squirming in my seat. I didn't understand my reaction at first. I really didn't. I'm all for encouraging women to take control of their health and to take better care of themselves.

Then it dawned on me... I keep wanting to scream  "Can we please, please, please have Breast Health Awareness Month?"

It's not that I don't understand the need to raise awareness about breast cancer and the devastation it can cause. I've seen it. I've had family members suffer from breast cancer. I've had scares of my own. I understand that early detection saves lives and that self-exams are important. It's not that I'm against any of that.

Let me reiterate, I am for self-exams and early detection. I am for finding a cure for breast cancer. Above all, I am for women having healthy breasts

But, here's the thing, too many women aren't taught to love their breasts, to cherish them, to revel in their uniqueness, their beauty. Instead we're taught to see them almost as enemies. We're taught to alternately flaunt them and hide them. We're taught to avoid showing cleavage because showing cleavage makes us look cheap or slutty or whatever. What we're never taught is the true beauty of cleavage when shown just right. We're taught that they're never perfect enough regardless of size: - large, small, or medium. We're taught to see our breasts as feeding apparatuses for babies, pleasure sources for men, or items for competition amoung ourselves.

Many of us are taught not to mention them because they're part of our private parts except they're not really very private. We're taught not to talk about them because that's equivalent to talking about sex. That is unless they're feeding apparatuses for babies, then not talking about them is discrimination  - unless we talk about them inappropriately. We whisper the word breasts when we talk about their health. Most of the time we avoid discussing breast cancer - well, that is unless it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And, again, we whisper the words when we do discuss it. And we avoid discussing self-exams or the best ways to keep our breasts healthy even with our closest friends and spouses. Think about it for a minute. We've created a convaluted matrix around our breasts where there really is no need.

It took two cancer scares for me to learn to appreciate my breasts - to, dare I say it, love them. I'm not going into the details of my scares here because it isn't germain to my point. I will only say I'm lucky because both my scares turned out to be nothing but scares. I hesitate to call them cancer scares though the abnormalities detected certainly raised that fear in me between being told of the detection and having the diagnostic mammogram come back normal.

I've actually come to be grateful for those scares because they got my attention. They made me do some research. They made me think. They made me realize the importance of my breasts to me. They made me want to be healthier overall and design my life to live as healthy as I possibly can.

I finally learned to see and touch my breasts with love instead of annoyance or fear. I stopped caring if someone criticized me for showing a bit of cleavage or because my nipples showed through my blouse on a cold day. I even started buying bras to show off their best assets and give them comfortable and proper support. I finally stopped giving a damn if someone else didn't like their size or shape or whatever.
  
I finally took the time to really get to know my breasts. I became intimate with them. Now I know every nook and cranny of both my breasts. I don't just examine them once a month but often enough to know that most of the time, they feel and look exactly the same. Once in a while, they change slightly. Then return to normal. Hormones will do that. Those minor changes no longer scare me.

I've learned that whenever I feel soreness, it is likely the result of one of three things or a combination of them: poor dietary choices, an ill-fitting bra, or exercising without proper support. A return to a healthy diet corrects the first one easily. The ill-fitting bra gets immediately adjusted for a better fit or removed from rotation if the adjustment doesn't work. A more supportive exercise top/bra for my yoga routines corrects the support issue. I've learned to listen to my breasts the same way I listen to the rest of my body.

During my last scare, I wrote a poem, Friends, Enemies, Breasts, about my lifelong struggle to love and accept my breasts.When I wrote it, I swore I'd never let anyone read it. It was therapuetic, but as I came to terms with loving and accepting my breasts, I decided sharing it might do some good. You can read it in my upcoming poetry collection, Reflections in Silhouette.

When I realized how much better I feel about my breasts since I gave myself permission to become intimate with them and cherish them, I wanted to share the idea with other women. I searched for something from a medical professional to back up my theory. I found two articles I want to share with you. They are both on Dr. Christiane Northrup's website. Please, go read them. Maybe they'll change the way you care for your breasts. One is called Transforming the Breast Self-Exam and the other is Wonderful Self-Care for Breasts.

I love that Dr. Northrup's approach aligns with what I discovered on my own after my last scare. So, ladies, next time you do your self-exam, perhaps you can concentrate on simply knowing and appreciating your breasts. It might even make you more likely to perform your exams more consistently because you'll no longer be going into it fearing what you'll discover. It works for me. Maybe it will work for you, too.

This year I'm actually looking forward to my professional exam. I won't be holding my breath fearing my doctor is going to detect something I missed because I didn't know my own breasts well enough to recognize a change. I'm even looking forward to my mammogram. It's all part of loving and cherishing not only my breasts but my body. I would even go so far as to say it's part of loving and cherishing my life - my self.

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