26 March 2014


I was 22 when I found my first tumor. I was on break from my senior year of college, reclined on the couch watching an Oprah episode about breast cancer. An expert was demonstrating to the audience how to perform self-exams, when to perform self-exams and how to determine abnormalities – more importantly, how to identify breast cancer.

My mother was working, my brother was at school and my grandmother had left the room so I decided to play along. I placed my hand under my shirt and followed the woman’s instructions as she and the audience members used a prosthetic to find the “frozen pea” under the surface.

I did not find a pea but I did discover something that felt a little odd. Under my skin I felt something hard and painful to the touch. While I was pretty sure I did not have cancer, I was sure that I should have the mass investigated so I called my family doctor.

A few days later the doctor confirmed that I did indeed need to go for some tests. She referred me to a specialist near my university. At that point I figured I needed to tell my mother. When I saw her that night, I told her matter-of-factly: “I saw the doctor today. I found a lump in one of my breasts earlier this week and I had it checked out. I am not worried; it’s not a big deal. But she scheduled another appointment with a specialist so I thought you should know.”

Thankfully, my mom left it at that.

The doctors at the women’s clinic were amazing – so kind and advisory. They chatted with me and explained every part of every procedure. My ultrasound revealed that even my A cups could hold a lot of unnecessary objects; I had three cysts and a definite mass that was likely a tumor. Whether the tumor was benign or malignant they did not know but a biopsy would determine the answer.

In the same room where I had my initial ultrasound, I was given a local anesthetic. The doctor and her team of nurses were with me as I witnessed the cyst expulsion and tumor biopsy. Two weeks later I returned for my results.

I was not nervous going into the appointment. In my mind, I had no reason to be nervous. The doctor had already advised me that the tumor was likely benign and I was only 22. A woman I did not recognize walked me into a room, positioned herself behind a desk, opened my file and then asked me if I had anyone with me.

I had heard about these types of encounters. Companions were only required when bad news was provided because the patients would black out once a key word was announced and the supportive person was supposed to actually hear what the doctor was saying. Why did I need a person? I was fine.

For someone who was not at all nervous, anxious or discombobulated when I walked into the room, I was absolutely on alert. “No,” I stated. “Do I need someone with me? Should I call someone?”

“Well, we usually recommend that someone be with you, just in case.”

Ohmygoodness, ohmygoodness, ohmygoodness just say it. SAY IT!!

“I have the results of your biopsy. The tumor is benign.” Holy sigh. Why the heck did she get me so worked up? She then went on to educate me on my specific type of tumor, indicating that I would likely have more throughout my life.

I was 22 when a plastic surgeon removed my first tumor. While my friends were all on spring break creating memories, I was with my mom recovering from surgery. She was kind enough to drive across the state to be with me throughout the whole thing.

A plastic surgeon was recommended because scarring would be less evident, so I agreed. Looking back on it, I have no idea why I was concerned with scarring. No one besides my husband is looking at my boobs and neither he nor I care whether they are scarred.

My second scar occurred on the same breast seven years later. My doctor found a second tumor during my 29th birthday exam. I had wondered if the thickness I felt was just scar tissue buildup after my first surgery, or whether I was just feeling the mammary gland – that plastic surgeon did tell me I have very lumpy breasts. Thanks, doc, I remember telling him. “That’s exactly what a 22-year-old wants to hear.”

The week before Thanksgiving I had my second surgery, in Singapore. On my 31st birthday exam, just six months ago, my doctor revealed a third tumor. Because I could not feel it and it was not bothering me, we decided to forego another surgery and just let this one slide. If the mass grows, becomes intolerable or starts to resemble something malignant, then we can talk about another surgery.

Why am I writing about this?

Two days ago I was asked to participate in a grassroots social media campaign. Last Friday I saw a Facebook photo of my friend, Sue, making a goofy face in front of a mirror. Her post stated that the picture was for breast cancer awareness and that she was on her way to her regular exam, minus her makeup. I just assumed she forewent the makeup due to the exam requirements. Then I began to see similar posts from some of my other friends.

One by one, make-up free selfies popped up on my newsfeed. I noticed my friends were tagging friends to do the same. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the photos were promoting breast cancer research and requesting donations to a specific foundation. Then I realized that all of my make-up free friends were British, either by nature or by marriage.

Friends were tagged and advised to text a code to a specific number that would automatically donate £3 to cancer research. Within a weekend, £2 million had been raised.

Nicola and I spoke on the phone Sunday evening; it was the first call we had had in a month due to her working travel schedule. During the call, she told me about this selfie challenge and asked if she could nominate me. “YES!!” I graciously and ecstatically replied. “I have been waiting for someone to nominate me….but I don’t think that I can contribute because I am unable to text international numbers.” I told Nic to move forward with the nomination and that I would figure out what to do before I continued the trend.

The next day I researched breast cancer awareness organizations. I immediately thought of Bright Pink, an organization focused on awareness, but I decided not to donate that day because I did not see funds set aside for cancer research, which was the apparent selfie platform. After about an hour or more of research on cancer organizations, breast cancer-specific organizations and third-party associations that rated charities, I decided to donate to the Susan G. Komen foundation.

Before I knew which organization I would choose, I knew that I should share my story. I am not a private person but I do choose to keep some things quiet for one reason or another. Only a few people outside my family – and I mean no more than three people – knew about my tumors and my surgeries. I did not feel that I had anything to hide; I just chose not to share because what happened to me was in my opinion no big deal. I did not want to tell anyone at the time because I did not want the attention – only the very first time did I even request prayer in church.

As I prepared to post my selfie and my story, I suddenly realized that by not sharing my story, I had helped no one. What good is an experience if no one learns from the situation? By not sharing my story of nearly a decade, I have lost millions of opportunities to share with friends and acquaintances a positive example of self-exams and reasons why donating to foundations for education as well as a cure is such a great idea. Had I not watched that woman on Oprah meticulously explain what I needed to do, I do not know when I would have discovered my masses. My boobs, as small as they are, could have been overtaken by tumors and I never would have questioned the lumpiness because, as my favorite plastic surgeon so eloquently told me, I had very lumpy breasts.

So here’s my story. And here’s what you need to know:
·         Check yourself for any abnormalities
·         Feel around the breast tissue and under the armpits and the soft tissue between
·         Seek medical attention if you even think something is not quite right
·         Spread the word
·         Donate what you can to trustworthy organizations
·         These no make-up selfies have raised £8 million in under a week (that’s more than $13 million) so even small donations add up very quickly
·         The Susan G. Komen foundation’s website can be found here: http://ww5.komen.org/

God bless. #nomakeupselfie 

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