Parents are a child’s first teachers! We spend countless hours assisting young people in acquiring skills that we hope will enable them to make wise decisions over the course of their lives. Yet many parents find it difficult to have conversations with their children about physical anatomy and human sexuality. Is it discomfort that keeps parents from addressing these topics? Perhaps it is because many parents are not prepared, while still others simply fear having these vital conversations and believe this information will fuel the flame of curiosity.
This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and as a YWCA Wellness Advocate, I have been leading many conversations around breast health and supporting community mammography screening events. At one event in particular, I noticed a teen with her mother staring intently at the prosthetic teaching device as I demonstrated how to perform a breast self exam to the woman. The look on the teen’s face displayed mixed emotions. I could see fear as I talked about breast cancer, and I could see curiosity as she moved in closer to the model and crept her finger to the edge of it as she discretely tried to touch it. I also watched her mother squirm with discomfort as she watched her daughter. The mother shared that she brought her daughter to the event to teach her the importance of having a mammogram.
The mother also told me how her daughter had been asking her about the purpose behind the pink ribbon campaign. She had asked, “Do you get mammograms, Mom?” The mother had replied yes, had explained the process of a mammogram to her daughter, and had asked if she would like to come with her to the appointment. Having come to the mammography event together, they both looked at me with smiles of relief as I continued sharing information about breast health with both of them!
Since that interaction, I have looked more closely at information on the importance of explaining mammograms and gynecological exams to teens:
Helping teens gain this awareness is giving them a boost up to being healthy adults. Every teenage girl should have had at least one pelvic exam by the time she graduates from high school. This exam should come sooner if she is sexually active. During the visit for the pelvic exam, the doctor will also perform a clinical breast exam, palpitating both breasts and under the arms to check for lumps and other signs (such as dimpling of the skin and unusual discharge from the nipple) of breast cancer.
As Breast Cancer Awareness Month continues and I continue educating women and their families about the importance of mammograms, I am reminded of this teen and her mom. I am also reminded of my very first mammogram at the age of 18. My mom hadn’t talked to me about self breast exams, nor had she taken me to a mammogram appointment with her – even though she went to them faithfully. And I don’t remember there being such wide-spread media coverage or public information in my community about breast health and breast cancer.
At 18 years old, I discovered a lump! I immediately told my mom and we made an appointment to have things checked out. After having a clinical breast exam by the doctor, I had my very first mammogram. I remember being afraid, crying and praying! Many thoughts went through my mind and I didn’t understand what was going on with my body. For the next few days, I read everything I could on the breast and breast cancer.
At that time – in the 1970s – the recommendation was to have surgery and have the lump removed. These days, doctors often perform an ultrasound or biopsy to learn more about what’s going before talking about surgery. After my surgery, I awoke in recovery and the first thing I did was touch my breast. I cannot began to tell you the relief and joy I felt when it was just a benign cyst! Everything was ok.
From that day till this one, I have always examined my breasts, had mammograms, and encouraged others to do monthly self breast exams on the 7th day after their cycle starts or on the date of their birth if they are no longer having menstrual cycles.
If you don’t have health insurance or are in need of a mammogram, call 206-461-4489 and I can assist you!