Marking October as ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month’ is a global drive to raise awareness of this devastating disease across all races, age groups and socioeconomic groups. Breast cancer is said to be the most common cancer in women worldwide, impacting more than two million women a year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2018 approximately 627 000 women died from breast cancer, and that is about 15% of all cancer deaths among women. Overall, cancer is the second largest cause of death worldwide.
A host of worldwide initiatives – championed by cancer survivors and patients, as well as volunteers, corporations, governments and non-profits – strive to improve awareness about breast cancer, encourage early screening and detection, build support for those impacted and fundraise for research and better treatments.
On Sunday 20 October 2019, I participated in the annual iThemba Avon Walkathon in Johannesburg. I was excited to be part of 7000+ South Africans who endured the heatwave and walked five or eight kilometres. I was touched to see everyone wearing white t-shirts with pink ribbons, and other pink costumes symbolising breast cancer support. At the finishing line, edutainment, information booths and mobile clinics educated walkers and supporters to recognise the signs of breast cancer.
Clinical screening for breast cancer is complex; however, I learned that the first sign to look out for is the lump or ‘thickening’ in a breast. I joined a booth where they were demonstrating, and I learned that women can do a breast self-examination (BSE) every month by rubbing the breast around to feel a lump. In order to get a better position of your breast, you can do the rubbing while standing, lying on your back or even ask someone else to help you. The BSE should not replace the clinical examination also known as a mammogram. It is important to note that if you suspect that there is a lump or changes in your breast no matter how small, please go to your health centre for clinical screening.
I also went to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) booth and I picked up a leaflet on the symptoms of breast cancer:
According to this leaflet, breast cancer usually doesn’t show symptoms in its early stages. But as the lump grows, it can change how the breast looks or feels. Common changes include:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the armpit area
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering in the skin of the breast
- The nipple becoming inverted (turning inward into the breast)
- Abnormal discharge from the nipple
- Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or areola (the
- dark area surrounding the nipple)
- The skin of the breast taking on an orange peel look or feel.
Early detection is key to benefitting from the many treatment options available and improving the chance of survival. Again, if you see any of the symptoms mentioned above or other ones that concern you, please go to your health centre. During the walkathon, we encountered encouraging women who are breast cancer survivors whose testimonies of early detection, treatment and now living their best lives are a true inspiration for all.
At the end of the tiring yet meaningful day, I reflected and realised that as women we deal with a lot including illnesses – and breast cancer is one of them. We are fortunate that there is information and there is something you can do no matter how big or small. I urge you, the readers of this post, to take charge by joining the mission for breast cancer-free movement. Please do breast self-examination each month, visit resources like the National Breast Cancer Foundation to learn more about breast cancer, share the information with your friends, family and colleagues and support women who are going through the experience.
Let’s conquer breast cancer with love!