As you may have already guessed from Coca-Cola’s pink cans adorning supermarket shelves, or Penneys’ new range of post-surgery bras, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

This time of year reminds us all of the importance of early detection, prevention, and support for many people and families who have been affected by breast cancer. According to cancer researchers in the UK, breast cancer continues to be one of the top four most common cancers occurring worldwide.

However, by increasing our awareness and education about this disease, we can make strides in reducing its impact right now. While many of us may have been touched in some way by this cruel disease, it is important to remember breast cancer isn’t just an issue faced by older generations; it affects young people too. Breast cancer awareness is crucial for everyone, regardless of age or gender, as early knowledge and action can make a significant difference in diagnosis and treatment.

In life, there are moments that force us to confront our deepest fears and grow up in an instant. For me, it was the heart-stopping instant when I first felt a lump in my breast.

Fear gripped my heart as I faced a breast cancer scare. For many women, the mere mention of a breast lump evokes an array of emotions ranging from despair to dread. I was no exception. This incredibly personal experience shed light on the importance of self-awareness and self-examination in your health.

Facing a breast cancer scare at the age of seventeen was not something I had ever anticipated. Before this moment, my biggest fears revolved around my leaving certificate exams.

Sitting in the waiting room of the breast clinic, my mother beside me, I watched the women around me. The room was saturated with a mix of emotions – pain, fear, and unwavering courage. Terrifying thoughts swirled in my anxious mind, but I clung to the words of my doctor, “Big or small, no breast lump should ever be left unchecked.” After a series of ultrasounds and biopsies, I was met with relief when the suspicious lump was identified as a Fibroadenoma – a benign tumour.

This experience was an enormous wake-up call. It made me realize that age does not grant immunity to these types of daunting health concerns. While breast cancer may predominantly affect the older generations, young people must understand how it could affect them. Knowledge is power, and by educating ourselves about breast health this October, we can be better equipped to support our loved ones and ourselves in the future. Your health is not a taboo topic or something you should have to live in fear of. Sharing stories, experiences, and concerns can help you find the answers you seek and help you to remember you are not alone in this. So many things in life are out of our control but the knowledge we have about our bodies does not have to be one of those things.

Performing regular self-breast examinations is the first step in increasing our breast cancer awareness. It is an easy and vital part of breast health awareness. Carrying out this simple exam regularly can actively help you detect any changes or abnormalities in your breasts as early as possible. Here is a straightforward step-by-step set of instructions on how to perform a self-breast examination:

Step 1 – Choose a Time:

It’s best to perform a breast self-exam approximately once a month. Choose a specific day of the month that suits you to perform the exam consistently. Consistency is key and it plays a vital role in the early detection of irregularities.

Step 2 – Look for any visible changes:

Stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. When looking for changes, inspect your breasts and underarm area in front of a mirror for any visible changes in size, shape, or colour, etc. Pay particular attention to any skin dimpling, puckering, or any changes in the nipple, such as inversion or discharge. Raise your arms above your head and observe your breasts again. Check for the same changes.

Step 3 – Feel for changes:

When feeling for changes, use the flat pads of your fingers to apply gentle but firm pressure. Like when looking for changes, repeat this process with both of your arms by your side and above your head. Make sure you cover the entire breast, including the outer edges and the area under your armpit. Pay attention to any lumps, thickening, or unusual textures. Note their size, shape, and location.

Step 4 – Check Your Nipples:

Check for any discharge. Some clear or milky discharge may be normal, but any bloody, yellow, or other unusual discharge should be reported to a healthcare professional. Another key change to look out for is nipple inversion.

Step 5 – Check for Swelling, Redness, or warmth:

These could be indicators of infection or inflammation.

Step 6 – Report Changes:

If you notice any changes during your self-breast examination, such as lumps, changes in skin texture, nipple discharge, or if something just doesn’t seem right, contact a healthcare professional promptly. Don’t doubt yourself, if you have a concern, no matter how scary it may feel, get it checked out.

Discovering a breast lump can be unsettling. It is in our nature to assume the worst outcome. However, many breast lumps are benign and pose no immediate threat to your health. But wouldn’t you rather know for sure?

While there are certation indicators of benign lumps and tumours to look out for such as smooth edges, easy mobility, relative stability in size, and painless or mild discomfort, these are not guarantees. All irregularities and changes in the breast tissue should be examined by a medical professional.

The significance of self-breast examinations cannot be overstated. By taking a proactive role in monitoring our breast health, we empower ourselves with the potential to detect abnormalities or concerns early on, which increases the chances of successful treatment for whatever the cause of the concern may be.

The simple act of conducting regular self-examination is a powerful expression of self-care and responsibility. It allows us to take charge of our well-being and advocate for our health. Together this October, let us not be ashamed to talk about our health and embrace the power of self-breast examinations. Let us raise awareness and encourage every woman to make self-breast examinations an important part of her healthcare routine.

If you have any doubts, more information on effective self-breast examinations or different stories of strength can be found on The Irish Cancer Society website, as well as through the Marie Keating Foundation and many more.

Saoirse Wilson – Arts & Lifestyle Editor