It’s breast cancer awareness month.
As a young nurse and young woman in my twenties, I got on the breast cancer awareness bandwagon. I am not saying that’s a bad thing or that I don’t still participate. But years later as an experienced Nurse Practitioner and a woman in my forties, I am recognizing the importance of honouring our breasts in a broader fashion.
Some key things have me pondering the concept of discussing breast health in new ways.
In the past year, a podcast and a book had me pondering the “like attracts like energy” concept. So I began to wonder: If we put all our attention into awareness of disease, are we just creating more disease?
Do we start to over screen or intervene in our efforts not to miss something? What if we put as much energy into health promotion as we did into disease awareness? Would we be healthier as a society?
Secondly, much like holidays and other very positive things in American culture, the good intentions of breast cancer awareness have somehow shifted to over-commercialization and mass marketing.
We have now coined the phrases “Pinkwashing” and “CAUSEmetics,” as we become aware that so many of the items branded with the pink ribbon contain known carcinogenic ingredients.
I believe in science, and I’m grateful for ongoing research in the cause, early detection, treatment, and cure for breast cancer. But I also want to think of my breasts as more than an organ that harbors potential deadly disease!
While driving to my own mammogram this morning, I started to ponder my opinion on how we should be celebrating and honoring our breasts:
1. Love them!
Stop with the “too small” “too big” “too saggy” “lopsided” “not perky” self-criticism. We all have body issues. We need to try to give up our hang-ups with our own bodies in order to own our own bodies. The more we love our breasts as a part of our whole selves, the more we get away from the societal sexualization and marketing of the perfect female body.
2. Make them comfortable.
I’m frugal when it comes to clothes. And nothing makes me cringe more than paying big bucks for the tiny amounts of material used to make a bra or bathing suit. The bra I just paid for won’t even be seen!
But finally by my second pregnancy, I reluctantly started to give myself permission to spend money on a bra that fit and was comfortable. Then, I admitted to myself that bra bands and straps get stretched out long before material wears out. Sometimes bras must be replaced before their time!
Size does change. And once you survive a bra fitting/asking for help in the dressing room, it’s really nice to have a bra that fits and is comfortable. Give yourself permission to keep them happy. (Remember that bras that don’t fit anymore can be donated to special charities who help homeless or women in financial need have good bras for job interviews, to attend school, and to live everyday life!)
3. Respect them.
Just as I wish I’d had the confidence to wear a form fitting outfit that flattered me (and maybe flaunted me) when I was 20. I’m also grateful I didn’t grow up in the age of snapping boob selfies and sending them to boys.
A word of advice to young ladies: respect your breasts! Be proud and confident when you decide to show them off, but choose wisely in how and when.
4. Use them.
Breast is best. Breasts are anatomically and physiologically amazing. Not only can women conceive, grow, and birth babies—we can feed them too! Whooooo Hooooo for girl power!!! If possible, breastfeed your children. Support the rights of breastfeeding women in any way you can. (Just don’t go so far over the edge as to reverse stigmatize woman who want or need to bottle feed).
5. Keep them healthy.
I’m thrilled science is working at early detection and proper treatment for breast cancer. But what if we gave more thought to prevention? Have you paid individual attention to the potential environmental influences on our health?
What are we putting in our bodies with preservative, chemical, GMO laden foods? What are we putting on our bodies in our soaps, cosmetics, and antiperspirants? What are we as a collective society putting in our air, water, and environment? I was slightly mortified last year when I realized I too have fallen victim to “Pinkwashing” and hadn’t given independent thought to the quality or types of products that were being branded for pink ribbon campaigns.
Would you prefer your cosmetic company package things in pink and donate a few cents to breast cancer research or would you prefer they took carcinogenic ingredients out of your products?
6. Check them out.
Self breast exams and clinical breast exams are proven and important. Current guidelines suggest monthly self breast exam and an annual clinical exam by your medical provider. Mammograms are proven in early detection, and screening guidelines are evolving based on continual risk-benefit analysis of testing.
Stay aware of mammogram guidelines and discuss them with your provider. When it is time to get a mammogram, don’t let fear or embarrassment stop you. Most mammography centers go out of their way to answer your questions, preserve your dignity, and give gentle exams with quality interpretations.
7. Support them and each other.
I would have absolutely worn pink to work yesterday had I gotten the memo in time. But also remember the ways you can best support the cause of breast heatlh as a whole. Typically, donation dollars are best spent if they are used locally or with smaller charities.
Here are some ways to support the cause:
- Donate skill—for several years, I took the literature and models to camps and taught teen girls how to do breast self exams, some knitting clubs knit caps for chemo patients.
- Donate time or resources—time to a local fundraiser, hair to locks of love, or outgrown bras to a charity that distributes them to women who need them.
- Vote with your dollars by supporting locally grown/organic foods and cosmetic product lines that are more healthy.
- Vote at your elections and contact your representatives to have a voice in continued medical research for women, improved health insurance coverage for screening exams, or the regulation of chemicals in our foods and products.
- Support your sisters—drive a nervous friend to her mammogram or cook for a family of a Mom undergoing chemo.
- Support breastfeeding Moms by making discreet breastfeeding in public a normal thing and by supporting the rights for timed breaks and privacy for pumping for working Moms.
Speak out against the media and marketing who stereotype the image of perfect women and perfect body types.
Choose your role in the awareness campaign and support your breasts in a mindful way that truly celebrates and honors them—after all, the support for our breasts needs to come from a stronger network than the underwire alone!
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: via Google Images