It happened suddenly.
Last October, in the middle of the night, I woke up with a hint of pain on the left side of my breast. As my heart raced, I used the tips of fingers to gently poke around the area and there it was: a bump, all of a sudden, out of nowhere.
Let me start off by telling you that I am OK and it turned out to be nothing serious. But last October, I had no idea what I was feeling or how, at the age of 24, I could feel anything like that on my breast.
After my first encounter with the pain and the bump, it went away after one week. But then, like my credit card bill, it started arriving promptly around the 15th of the month in conjunction with my period.
But I still didn't tell anyone. As I peeled days off the calendar and watched seasons dance right past me, I'd look at myself in the mirror and take a deep breath as the butterflies swam a 100-meter race around the "what-if's" and the "how-do-I's" that were setting up camp in the lower region of my gut.
I thought maybe, if I stopped paying attention to it, like a nagging ex-boyfriend, it, too, would eventually go away.
Except that our fears don't disappear like that. They make themselves ever-so-present, clinging on to our sides and creepy-crawling under our beds at night, waking up with us in the morning with bulging eyes and tangled hair, looking worse and bigger than they did the night before. All until one day, we are forced to look into their eyes face-to-face at some overpriced, couture dinner party and have a stern chat with them.
Last year, I had the remarkable opportunity to write feature stories on courageous breast cancer survivors for a magazine in Florida, and aside from teaching me that breast cancer wraps it's arms around all types of women (and men), in all shapes, fancying all ages -- even 20-somethings and 30-somethings -- it reminded me once again that we have to know our own bodies.
The common denominator in every interview was how each of the women told me that it's important to know yourself better than anyone else -- even doctors. When you feel, when you think, when you get the tiniest inkling that something may be wrong, go get it checked and if your gut is screeching after that, get a second opinion. If there is one more thing we all need to add to our daily crowded to-do list, it's to be aware of any changes in our health and our bodies and address them.
Behind my nervousness was the clunking fear that if I admitted something was wrong, something would actually be wrong. I didn't want to set off a fire of panic in my loved ones and I wanted to try to handle this on my own. But sometimes, you need another's strength to help you help yourself. And so, after I told my mom and after I finally saw a doctor and got an ultrasound that put my fears to rest, I started to open up and tell people I knew about what I felt in my breast.
In turns out, a handful of people I told had felt something similar and either got it checked out or were too scared to say anything.
All over the NYC subway's there are signs that read, "If you see something, say something." The very same concept applies to your body. If you feel something, please, say something.
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