Letter to the editor.
This is a letter to the editor. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit letters, email Managing Editor Kelsey O’Connor at koconnor@ithacavoice.com.

Athletes clad in pink socks and hair ribbons, pink tutus and feather boas worn proudly by people walking at events like the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk and supermarket cashiers asking if you’d like to donate a dollar to research are all common occurrences during the month of October. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but wearing pink for one event, or even an entire month, is not enough to save lives.

I am 20 years old, and I still have nine years left until I can start receiving examinations that could save my life. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 39 years old, and I was only in the second grade at the time. When I was at my annual physical with my pediatrician a few years ago and my mom first mentioned looking into precautionary options we can start taking for me, I nearly fainted because the thought of this disease makes me so anxious.

Since that initial conversation, I have had a genetic test, bloodwork, vitamin D supplements and changed my birth control method, all to lower my risk of cancer. I have sought advice from my pediatrician, physician, a Boston University medical student, two gynecologists and a genetic specialist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. As if the fact that my mother, aunt and both of my grandmothers have fought the disease wasn’t enough to determine my fate, I tested positive for an Ataxia-Telangiectasia mutated gene. Although the mutation does not have extensive research, it is proven to increase my already high chances of developing breast cancer. I have to live with the knowledge that my genes are mutated every day, but I cannot do anything about it for another nine years.

At the age of 40, women start receiving annual mammograms, which are X-ray pictures of the breast, to check for cancer. For the majority of women under the age of 40, the only time their breasts are being checked at all is once yearly at their annual exams. Even then, they are only being grazed over as part of the routine examination. We can’t expect a doctor who only sees us only once a year to know our breasts well enough to be able to detect subtle differences such as thickening of the breasts, dimpling of breast skin, and redness around the nipple, which are all signs of breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Having your breasts checked once a year is not enough — women must take the health of their breasts into their own hands. Literally. A study done by Johns Hopkins Medicine states that 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump on their own, stressing the importance of developing a routine for self-checking once a month.

Women should perform self-checks by standing in front of a mirror to check for visual changes, lying down to allow the breast tissue to spread and touching them while standing or sitting. Many women prefer to do the last step while in the shower because the skin will be wet. Although these are the recommended methods to self-checking, I think that above all, the key is knowing your own breasts. They are yours and no one can ever know them the way you do. Only you can detect subtle changes that could save your life.

The health of our breasts has to be taken into our own hands, quite literally. Spending just a few minutes once a month could save your life. You are the only person who can know what feels normal for your own body, and you are the only one who has the power to take action if something feels off.

Jessica Elman

Integrated Marketing Communications B.S. ’21 | Ithaca College