With only 20 of the 46,000 women in the United Kingdom under 25 diagnosed each year with Breast Cancer is it simply a waste of time to train the next generation in breast care awareness? That was the question I had in mind when I went to talk to Women’s officers and welfare officers for the student body at Cambridge University on Monday evening.
When I went up to University 30 years ago, we had our obligatory sex talks on safe sex, the use of condoms, the importance of not destroying our prospects by falling pregnant or catching an STV whilst having hijinks and sexual experiences with the boys the other side of the high metal posts which marked the border between our women’s college and the impossible but potentially ‘dangerous’ world of the other!
Not a word though on the very real threat to our future well-being in the secret killer which could lurk in our breast tissue and emerge several years later and terminate all our focussed study, our determination to succeed in a ‘man’s world’ of business, politics, religion.
Breast Cancer belonged to the world of the beyond our times. The era of our Grandmothers, or at the very least of our mothers. Post menopausal women with bangs as capacious as shopping bags, and a life style to match. Not our young energetic, health conscious, vegetarian, bean eating, carciogene rejecting generation.
And yet within 20 years of leaving college, four of my contemporaries who were in my immediate circle of friends had succumbed to the killer – three of them had died – in their early forties – two with young children surviving them, one with a couple of publications as her on going memorial.
They mark the increasing impact of breast cancer as the years progress, and we move from our 20s into our 30s without noticing the tide of change around us or more important within us. Cells dividing, reproducing, endlessly writing our script of life and openness to the future. And within this seemingly endless reproduction, the seeds of destruction, where our cells become contaminated with a rogue script, unable to shut down and becoming the potential destroyer of all those obedient cells, just getting on and doing their habitual work of faithful replication.
The first indications of this rogue cell formation, an early tumour will normally be for us to locate. A small lump in the breast tissue palpable by our fingers, as we dress, or shower, or bathe or make love. Or a dimpling or inversion of the nipple, or rippled skin over the surface of the breast tissue we note one day whilst dressing in front of a mirror, or our partner remarks on. Or some unkind emission from our nipple, mucky or bloody fluid forcing its way from a normally dry zone.
And we take ourselves to our doctor – worried, concerned, anxious, panicking, our life chasing itself in our minds eye, as we seek to keep calm with the receptionist, and sit quietly in the chair with our GP and have to admit that well no we havent been checking our breasts regularly – we thought there was NO need – well not until you know our bangs were as sumptuous as Katie Price’s or we had reached – touch wood not yet – the menopause.
By which time we could be sitting with a stage 2 or stage3 cancer, which has grown beyond its initial ‘safe housing’ of its original site of formation, learnt to replicate, metestasised and started to invade secondary organs with devestating effect.
None of my immediate colleagues at University ‘fell pregnant’ as my moral tutor deliciously phrased it, during my years at University. But three did die from stage 3 breast cancers discovered too late to do anything about them in their thirties and early forties. And the ongoing early termination of all their work, dedication, years of study and ongoing pioneering in business, politics, writing and religious spheres, juggling their parenting with their more public spheres of work – just might – we shall never know – have been avoided by regular self examination – undertaken and becoming a life time life saving habit – when at University.
So I have handed this piece of worldly wisdom onto my daughter’s generation so that the loss to Breast Cancer which will lock in one in eight women now in its potentially deadly embrace over the course of this generation’s life time, might have an improved prospect of flourishing, contributing, nurturing, and simply living into a ripe good age, averting the grip of Medicines oldest recorded disease.
A new organisation has been raised up in the last 18 months to raise awareness amongst the under 30s of the importance to self examine – and to take seriously the low but present risk of breast cancer in the cohort of young women in this age range. For more information on their work drop onto their site http://www.coppafeel.org/get_aware
Touch Look Check, – self examine once a month, love your breasts, you will miss them if they are taken from you, keep them as your best friends for life, for love, for fun, for good.
Load up this link http://breakthrough.org.uk/breast_cancer/breast_awareness/index.html onto your iphone, download onto your laptop – send friends links, facebook messages with alerts to keep aware, check regularly, report early and stay safe.
Become a life saving breast lover, and be part of the movement to save women’s lives from this most ancient of menaces.