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Have You Done Your Breast Self-Exam This Month?

01 Oct, 2015

Have You Done Your Breast Self-Exam This Month?

This post first appeared as part of the PTFE Survivor Series. 

PromiseToFeelEm.com

Knowing how to perform a breast self-exam won’t save you from the clutches of breast cancer. (If the cancer comes a-calling, you can’t ask it to please move along to someone else. It picked you, and you have to deal with it). But, self-exams can make a dramatic difference in when the cancer is detected. Provided, of course, you actually do them.

In my 20s, I definitely was not the poster child for monthly self-exams. Sure, there was the rare moment in the shower when I’d think of it, but it was exactly that: an unusual occurrence. Like spotting a unicorn, unusual. I was young. I had years before I had to consider the risk of breast cancer.

Or so I thought.

Within a week of one another, my sister and my best friend found lumps. They, of course, were performing monthly self-checks. Fortunately for each of them their doctor-ordered mammograms came back clear. However, the experience spooked me enough to realize cancer can strike the young and healthy.

But, even with my heightened awareness and wake-up call, I still didn’t start feeling my own breasts. It took one day haphazardly poking around for a pimple on my arm to even get close to examining myself. It was actually my wrist that grazed just above my right breast and I felt it. I stopped short. Wait, that wasn’t there before, was it? The pimple was no longer my concern, this little lump was. I pressed on it just to be sure. Then I tried to rationalize it. I was just with my gynecologist for an annual exam a couple of months ago. If this were something, she would’ve told me, right?

But, because of what had happened with my sister and best friend, I decided it was prudent to get it looked at. Even though I thought, “hey, I’m 27, it was going to be nothing; just like it was for them.

Only it wasn’t nothing, and I didn’t get a quick “all-clear.”Dana

I got, “let’s do an ultrasound.” Then, “better get a mammogram to be sure.” Then another test. Another visit. And the phone call.

“You have cancer.”

Infiltrative Ductal Carcinoma to be exact. It was the day before my birthday, and just two and half months from my wedding day. My world shattered. I went from blushing bride to cancer patient in a matter of seconds – as if someone had hit the lights.

Despite a grueling regimen of chemotherapy and radiation, and multiple surgeries resulting in a new pair of girls, I managed to stay buoyant. I continued to work and be active. I started to see the glimmer of light as I passed each hurdle and milestone. But, as my relationship with cancer was waning, an uneasy feeling of restlessness was settling in.

My ladder climb in the fashion industry, once exciting and fulfilling, now felt meaningless. And my body was in outright rebellion. Though recovered from the poison I had been feeding it, and in the eviction process with its nastiest tenant, it still found something new to fight me on: my clothing.

More importantly, my bras.

There is a series of events in almost every breast cancer journey: Something shows up on a test, you find yourself in the world’s longest waiting game, your body discovers the joys of chemo, you lose your hair and your breasts, you go for scan after scan and if you’re lucky, you get discharge papers from your oncologist. Then, life is supposed to just go on as if nothing ever happened. Congrats, you show NED. Have a nice day, see you again in a few months, and then again, and again.

One day you’re thrown upside down with a devastating diagnosis, then you’re righted again. It’s disorienting at best.

We cancer survivors cope by hitting pause on life to fight the good fight as best we can. Some of our old life seeps in, but for the most part, everything stops. Except the cancer part. And, if we’re lucky, we hope to just hit unpause when it’s time and go back to where we were pre-cancer. But, as anyone who’s been through it knows, life isn’t as simple as your DVR remote.

Because there is no way to go back to pre-cancer. You just go forward blindly trying to recover from what just happened.

This is what I struggled with the most. Few things from my old life felt right. I now wanted to give back and do more. I had met such an incredible group of sisters from the sorority of the the pink, and I wanted to do something for them. At the same time the open revolt on my lingerie drawer left me grieving and frustrated.

In the midst of this confusion, I somehow realized I could do something about what I was experiencing. I took my decade worth of fashion and design experience, my fails in the bra department and my desire to live a life true to myself, and I started my own business, AnaOno Intimates. It was the lingerie line I always wanted to design, but never knew I had in me.

AnaOno gave me my sense of self back and closed the gap between my pre- and post-cancer lives. It’s for women like me who’ve had a mastectomy and can no longer fit into traditional bras. It’s for women like me who want something more than what’s available to them; something beautiful, comfortable and sexy. And, AnaOno is my way to give back and do something good in the world.

Dana2

Not only do we try and help women feel sexy and desirable again, at AnaOno we donate a part of our sales to breast cancer charities supporting women going through treatment.

In some ways, I am that sassy, driven 27-year-old Dana before cancer, but in many others, I am not. I am stronger. I am more aware. I am focused. I am humbled. It has been five years since I first discovered that little lump – a crazy, Tilt-a-Whirl five years.

But I wouldn’t change anything knowing what I know now.

Except maybe skimping on my breast exams. I could have done those sooner, and that’s why I Promise to Feel Em!

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1 comment

www.beautythroughthebeast.com

November 08, 2015

Dana,
I finally got to hear your story, after following your lingerie line and loving your bras! I love the “life isn’t as simple as your DVR remote.” Thank you for contributing positively to the pink sorority and designing sexy and functional lingerie for us sisters. I hope to meet you one day soon!
Chiara

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