A major part of living your #breastlife is getting familiar with your girls, but how familiar are you? What’s the 4-1-1 gives you the tea on everything you need to live your very best life and empower you to get familiar with your lady bits.
Sis, have you ever contemplated genetic testing (a type of medical test that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins)? It’s a powerful way to take charge of your breast and ovarian health that can
- Confirm or rule out a suspected mutation in your DNA or
- Help determine your chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder.
While there can be significant benefits to the knowledge gained through genetic testing, we know this isn’t always easy, especially for women of color. We are not blind to the fact that there is mistrust in the medical system in part due to widely publicized experiments, and racial bias in the healthcare system. Before signing up for genetic testing, many Black women have to overcome deeply-rooted concern about the potential misuse of DNA results and mistrust of health research, which has not always benefited them and was sometimes conducted without their consent. We hope that learning more about the benefits of testing, what to expect, and which professionals to rely on throughout the process will help you make informed choices that are right for you.
Understanding Your Genetics is Important
When you want to be proactive about your health…
Understanding the basics of genetics—especially how mutations can lead to a higher risk of certain cancers—gives you better information about your overall health plan. About genetic testing. And about discussions to have with your healthcare provider.
When your family history indicates a pattern…
A family history of cancer may mean there’s an underlying genetic cause. Once you understand how genes and mutations work, you’re better equipped to work through your family history—and better equipped for conversations with your healthcare provider or a genetic counselor.
Your healthcare provider is likely to recommend testing if you have certain medically significant risk factors. If your personal or family health history includes any of the following (from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network), you should strongly consider testing.
- Breast cancer by age 45
- Breast cancer by 50 AND a close relative with breast or ovarian cancer by 50
- Male breast cancer in your family
- Breast cancer at any age AND two or more relatives with breast cancer at any age
- Cancer in both breasts
- Ovarian, primary peritoneal or fallopian cancer at any age
- A close relative with a BRCA mutation or another mutation that increases the risk of developing cancer.
- Triple negative breast cancer
When you’re curious, or you want to fill in the gaps…
A complete family history means going back at least three generations. That’s not always possible, so understanding your own genetic makeup can help you—and your healthcare provider—work backward to fill in the gaps. And even if you’re simply curious about your own health, understanding your genetic risks is a proactive way to get a better overall view.
Asking the Right Questions
Finding someone to talk to is one thing, but being sure that you are asking the right questions… is another. Some questions that you should consider include:
- Am I a candidate for genetic testing? Should I consider it?
- Do you have any good ways to spark discussions with my relatives about our health history?
- Based on my family history, what’s my chance of testing positive for a genetic mutation? What’s my projected risk for developing breast and/or ovarian cancer?
- If someone in my family has tested positive for a known genetic mutation, what are the chances that I’m also a carrier?
- What type of test do you recommend?
- What’s our plan if I test positive, negative, VUS?
- What type of cancer screenings do you recommend for me if I decide not to get tested?
We’ve gone ahead and created a full list of questions to help guide your conversations with your healthcare provider or genetic counselor.
At the end of the day, the more you understand about your personal risk for breast and ovarian cancer, the better equipped you’ll be to make the healthy choices that are right for you. So you can live your best life.
With it officially being the half-way mark of 2019 (we know, HOW is already June?!), it is the perfect time to take stock of what you have accomplished so far and think about the goals on your list you’d like to check off. Maybe this is the year you read more, the year you stick to your exercise routine or the year you treat yo’ self. But one action you definitely have to take if you haven’t so far is scheduling your annual well-woman exam. This check-up is a major component in your breast and ovarian cancer prevention and early detection strategy.
Even though Bright Pink’s official Call Your Doctor Day isn’t until Tuesday, June 11, why not get a jump start and begin maintaining your breast and ovarian health by calling and scheduling your appointment today? Here are some tips for calling the office to set up your appointment:
- Now is the perfect time to schedule your exam since it’s the beginning of the month. The end of the month gets hectic at the OB-GYN when birth control prescriptions tend to run out and patients need refills ASAP. Avoid getting crowded out by last-minute appointments and call early in the month.
- Schedule your appointment around popular days and time slots. The most popular days to visit the OB-GYN are Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the most booked times (daily) are 9 a.m., 10 a.m., and 2 p.m. Unless you need to see your doctor at these times, be flexible with the receptionist.
- Prepare for your visit. Another part of the new year for you might include insurance turnover, so make sure you have your updated info for the receptionist when you arrive (and arrive early!).
|Ok ladies, now it’s time to get your health in formation. 💃🏽💃🏽 Are you ready to schedule your well-woman exam? Pick up the phone and call your doctor today- it’s the best way to really treat yo’ self. brightpink.org/annual|
Bright Pink is dedicated to empowering young women to have life-saving conversations with their doctors about breast and ovarian health. Learn more about how to foster this positive relationship at BrightPink.org. And don’t forget your printable guide on what to ask your doctor.
Longtime Bright Pink supporter, Brianna Meade, shares her personal connection to Bright Pink’s mission as well as her special relationship with her mother, Ellen.
Throughout the month of May, Brianna and her family are matching all donations (up to $10,000) through the Ellen Marks Cancer Foundation, a foundation created to honor her mother’s legacy. Read on to learn more about Brianna and how she’s honoring her mother’s legacy by being proactive about her health.
How did you first hear about Bright Pink?
I met the founder Lindsay [Avner] through a mutual friend and was so inspired to hear about Bright Pink’s work.
Why did you and your family choose to support Bright Pink?
My mother carried the BRCA2 gene (unknowingly) and she passed away eight years ago due to complications with her long fight with metastatic breast cancer.
I underwent genetic testing, not knowing that my mother was a carrier. I had people, even doctors, telling me I did not fit the typical profile for a carrier, which is ridiculous because I do indeed have the BRCA2 gene. Due to a positive test, I immediately went to my OBGYN only to find out I had breast cancer. I was only 33. I had a radical double mastectomy eight days after my diagnosis followed by months of treatment. So to say the cause [Bright Pink] is near and dear to our heart is almost an understatement.
What do you want our community to know about your mother?
It’s hard to explain how much you love your mother in words, right?
I was beyond lucky to have her. Even though it wasn’t long enough, she taught me how to be the strong woman I am today. She was wise, loving, deeply caring, an adventure seeker, classy, intelligent and someone people came to for advice.
She was private about her health struggle, (it was incredibly hard on her) and there was nothing more she wanted then to be here right now [today]. She was the fiercest fighter I have ever met, all while doing it with dignity and grace.
What are your favorite memories of your mom?
There are so many; she was my best friend. The person I called every morning, noon and night. But I’ll go with the last great memory we had together. We went to Paris for my 30th birthday. It was a magical time for me, I was always in awe of my mother and there was just something so alluring about her. On this trip, I felt like she was finally letting me in on all of her little ways and secrets, and I just gobbled it all up. We laughed and talked for hours on that trip and it’s burned into my memory.
How can people learn more about the Ellen Marks foundation?
It’s a foundation my family started in honor of our mom. We work primarily with cancer charities and [we] have a close relationship with Northshore Hospitals.
Advice for fellow moms?
Oh gosh, I don’t know we are all just trying our best! I guess I would say just try and be present, honest and open with them [children]. My two little ones are my whole world and I made a promise to myself to shower them with love, honesty, and openness while also giving them discipline when needed and structure.
Also please make time for yourself when it comes to your health! My son was six months old when I undergone genetic testing, and seven months old when I was diagnosed. I am beyond thankful I made my health a priority even during the throes of new motherhood.
What do you want other women to know about taking control of their health?
I’d love to see the fear come out of it. I hear sometimes, “oh I’d just rather not know,” or “it’s too scary to find out my genetic history.” I always say it’s actually scarier not to know!
Knowledge is power, take that in. You can be proactive about something that could change the trajectory of your life. You become empowered with knowledge and options instead of fear and worry.
Any Words of Wisdom on how to make prevention a priority?
To put it simply, I may not be here right now if I didn’t make my health and prevention a priority. I found my cancer at a treatable stage but do I wish I had known about this [BRCA] gene earlier in life so I could have taken the route of prevention instead of treatment. I can’t change that. I did change [my narraritive] when it came to getting my preventative oophorectomy last year. I was ready and felt very empowered by my choice of prevention.
It’s 2019 and it’s time to evolve and to start a new way of thinking about our health.
Curious about what motherhood has to do with breast and ovarian health?
Becoming a mom is quite an undertaking, both emotionally and physically. Our bodies go through changes, and while some of them more visible than others (oh, hello stomach wrinkles), a few of those changes impact our breast and ovarian cancer risk!
Let’s start with pregnancy. Pregnancy transforms and stabilizes the cells in our breasts that comprise milk-producing glands and ducts, so the earlier this transformation happens, the lower the risk of breast cancer. Some studies have shown that women with first pregnancies under the age of 30 have a 40-50% lower risk of breast cancer than women who gave birth later or who were never pregnant.
Pregnancy can also reduce your risk of ovarian cancer. During pregnancy, your body is not ovulating. The lack of our monthly cycle during this time decreases the amount of ovarian cell activity and therefore the number of chances for ovarian cells to “go rogue” during cell division.
Breastfeeding can also play a role in your risk reduction strategy. Though breastfeeding may not be for everyone, breastfeeding for 1-2 years (not necessarily consecutively), can lower your risk for both breast and ovarian cancer. When breastfeeding, many women do not ovulate. So similarly to pregnancy, this break in ovarian cell activity can be protective for your ovaries, and all decreases the amount of estrogen in your body. It also may reduce a female baby’s overall risk of developing breast cancer later in her life.
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, our breasts go through a TON of changes (thank you hormones).. In order to practice breast self-awareness during this time, It’s important to know what changes are expected, and what might merit a conversation with a provider. Although pregnancy associated with breast cancer is rare, it is important to be aware of the possibility. Make sure you notify your provider about any new symptoms including the following:
Breast changes during pregnancy and breastfeeding:
- Tenderness & discomfort
- Blue veins
- Darker areolas
- Areola bumps
- Nipple discharge of colostrum, a thick yellow liquid that boosts the immune function of newborns in the very early stages of breastfeeding
- Stretch marks
Things to bring to your provider:
- Unusual nipple discharge that is unlike colostrum
- Breast lumps. Usually, these lumps are not a cause for concern. They are often either: galactoceles, which are clogged milk ducts, or fibroadenomas, which are benign breast tumors. These symptoms are likely to be harmless, but it is a good idea to have an expert take a look because of how complicated our lady parts can be during this time
- Swelling, soreness or rash
- Warmth, redness or darkening
- Dimpling or puckering of skin
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on nipple
- Nipple that becomes flat or inverted
- New, persistent pain in one spot
- Persistent itching
- Bumps that resemble bug bites
- Cyst (benign mass made of water) including galactoceles and fibroadenomas.
If a new or suspicious symptom does arise in pregnancy, your provider may recommend consultation with a breast radiologist for diagnostic imaging of the breast. During pregnancy, the imaging work up usually starts with an ultrasound. During breast feeding, a mammogram may sometimes also be performed along with an ultrasound for evaluation in a patient with symptoms. If you are breastfeeding and a mammogram is going to be performed, your radiologist will likely ask you to pump or feed before the mammogram. Some breast centers have hospital grade pumps available, but if you’re more comfortable with your own, bring it just in case!
For high-risk women without symptoms who have started an annual screening program, mammograms and MRI examinations will not be performed during pregnancy. However, bilateral whole breast ultrasound is a great alternative screening tool during pregnancy. Although mammograms can be obtained during breastfeeding, they are limited due to lactation changes and again bilateral whole breast screening ultrasound may be a good alternative for screening during this time in high-risk patients. You can contact your breast imaging center to find out when they recommend resuming annual screening mammography after pregnancy (most places recommend 3-6 months after breast feeding). Screening MRI can be resumed once breast feeding is finished.
The ongoing struggle: managing motherhood and your health
Motherhood comes with so many rewards, but also great challenges. Balancing the demands of family responsibilities along with other life pressures can be tricky. The one thing that should not be sacrificed amongst it all is Y-O-U! It is imperative to take time to keep up with your annual well-woman exams, cancer screenings, and healthy lifestyle behaviors. Not only for your own health but to also set a wonderful example for your children!
Here are some resources for the moms in our community managing their breast and ovarian health while raising kids:
Some believe that grief is the last act of love we have to give to those who have transitioned. I think that grief is love with nowhere to go. -Simone Banks
Mother’s Day can be a triggering time of year for those whose mother or mother-figure has passed on. Between the incredibly moving commercials, Target aisle displays, social media posts, and everything in-between, we understand that this time of year can be difficult. We recently spoke with Simone Banks, counselor, about how to truly thrive.
Feel all the feelings you want to feel
Emotions are like waves, and I genuinely believe that they have to rise and fall in a safe place as they please. It’s ok to be sad leading up to Mother’s Day, and it’s ok to think about all of the things you wish they were here for, and it’s ok to feel not much of anything. Give yourself time and space to be sad, angry, happy and anything in between.
Homework: have some alone time leading up to Mother’s Day, write in a journal, write your mother/ mother-figure a letter, practice self-care and be patient with yourself and your feelings.
Talk about them to someone who understands
When losing a loved one, talking about them and how they made an impact on your life will help you not only practice gratitude, but also feel that you are not alone. Grief can make you feel like you are the only one feeling this way and talking it out will help.
Homework: talk to the people that knew your mother/ mother-figure the best and discuss all the things you loved about them. Whether it is reminiscing about a funny story, watching home videos together, or simply listening to stories about how they were when they were younger.
Honor their memory daily
I learned this tip from my mom; when a loved one passes away, remember and honor them by enhancing your life with one of their greatest qualities. Whether it was their business acumen or their artistic flair, try to bring that to your own experience as a daily tribute.
Homework: Write down three things you truly loved about them and pick one that you can incorporate into your life. If there was a cause or mission that they were very passionate about, supporting that cause is one way to continue their legacy.
Have a Mother’s Day Game Plan
Decide earlier in the week how you plan to spend the day. Mother’s Day is a time to practice self-care and boundaries. Minimalize your triggers and focus on how you feel in the moment. You do not have to have a by-the-hour plan, however, having a general idea of how you plan on spending the morning, afternoon and evening of Mother’s Day is a major key.
Homework: Carve out some quiet time the morning of Mother’s Day and think of your loved one. You can either do some of their favorite things or eat their favorite food. Consider letting others in your life know that you may be off-line for the morning (or longer if you choose to). It is best to have a plan that involves others during the day and a plan if you decide to be alone.
Create new traditions
Your mother/ mother-figure would want you to live a full life and it is ok to show them that you are growing from sadness. It does not mean you do not miss or love them any less or that they are forgotten. Honor them by living every moment of your life to the best of your ability. Put a new spin on traditions you shared together, remember the love, and spread those warm feelings to others.
Homework: Think of one of your best day(s) ever with your loved one. What did that day consist of? A great breakfast? An amazing movie? A hike in your favorite park? Do not be afraid to continue to experience great days with the people in your life. Honor them by creating new memories and by living your very best life.
Simone French Hall Banks M.Ed is a counselor in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has her Bachelors of Arts in History from Howard University and her Masters of Education in Counselor Education from Louisiana State University. Simone is passionate about helping women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community. In her free time, she loves to explore Charlotte, NC with her husband, Christopher.
“Mama, you are appreciated.” -2Pac
This Mother’s Day we are celebrating and honoring the incredible women who have helped to mold us into the empowered and kick-ass women we are today.
At Bright Pink, we’re proud to provide important programs and resources that help women better understand and manage their breast and ovarian cancer risk. And this Mother’s Day, we’re giving you an opportunity to pay it forward so even more women can be impacted by our work. When you make a gift in celebration of your mom, mother-figure, or mom’s everywhere, now through the end of May, all donations, (up to $10,000), will be matched thanks to the Ellen Marks Foundation. This Match for Mom is just way to do #moreformom at this special time of year. For all donations made via our Classy page, you will get a special e-card to pass along to a mom you love.
Your gift will help us ensure more mom’s everywhere can live healthier, happier, longer lives. Because when women are healthy, families are strong, communities prosper, and the world is brighter.
Happy Mother’s Day!
A major part of living your #breastlife is getting familiar with your girls, but how familiar are you? What’s the 4-1-1 gives you the tea on everything you need to live your very best life and empower you to get familiar with your lady bits.
Breast density has been all over the news the past few weeks with the FDA proposing a new rule that would require mammogram providers to tell women if they have dense breasts which would be a major win for women everywhere. Did you know that about 40% of women in the United States have dense breasts- with Black women having a higher rate? We have the lowdown on what exactly is breast density and how to find out if your girls are dense.
What does it mean if I have dense breasts?
Your breasts contain several types of tissue, from glandular lobes that create milk when you are pregnant, to lymph and blood vessels, to fatty tissue. Breast density is a way to measure how much of your breast is made up of fatty tissue. Dense breasts contain less fatty tissue. Since dense tissue and tumors both appear white on a mammogram, dense breast tissue can make it hard to find tumors or other changes in the breast on a mammogram.
How does breast density affect my breast cancer risk?
In addition to making cancer detection more difficult, breast density also increases your risk of breast cancer. Studies show that having dense breasts can double your risk of getting breast cancer. Ugh.
Who is more likely to get dense breasts besides Black women?
- Premenopausal women
- Postmenopausal women taking hormone therapy
- Women who have a lower BMI
- Young women
The medical community is not entirely sure Your breast density can change as you age, or as your bodyweight changes.
How do I find out if I have dense breasts?
The only way to truly know if you have dense breasts is through mammography. Some states have laws that say a radiologist/healthcare provider must inform you if you have dense breasts, and some states don’t. Your best bet? Talk with your healthcare provider and ask them directly if you have dense breasts.
What happens next?
If a radiologist determines that you have dense breasts, talk to your healthcare provider about what screening options are available to you, taking into account other risk factors like family history of breast cancer, personal health history, and lifestyle. Currently, there are no guidelines or recommendations for increased or additional screening for women with dense breasts.
What types of screening are available and when are they used?
- 2D Mammogram: This is the most common form of mammography. Your personal and family health history will determine when you start screening.
- 3D Mammogram: This technology is becoming more widely available and proven to be more accurate than 2D mammography.
- Breast MRI: This can be used in addition to mammography if your provider wants a more accurate reading. This can be utilized for women at elevated risk.
- Breast Ultrasound: This can be used to look more closely at something suspicious. It can also be helpful in addition to mammography for women with dense or fibrocystic breasts.
Awareness in Action™
Our girls come in all different types of sizes, shapes, and varying densities. Text BRIGHT to 59227 and reply Y, or sign up here, for Bright Pink’s Breast Health Reminders™. We’ll send you regular reminders to check in with your breasts so that you can better define what’s normal for YOU. You are just one text message away from living your #breastlife.
Britt LaThrece [pro-nounced La-Tree S sound]. Is the influencer and content creator behind BrittLaThrece.com, a digital destination for lifestyle, fashion, and holistic wellness; mind, body, and soul. It empowers women to be yourself, love yourself, and accept yourself for who you are, where you are, right now in your personal journey. BrittLaThrece.com offers tips, inspiration, and ideas for creative and mindful living.
I would like to share a very personal story with each of you that I was never really comfortable sharing until now. Wellness is a very important part of my lifestyle, and something that I pride myself on is my routine health and wellness practices.
Generally, summer tends to be a more relaxed season in my industry due to vacations and Summer Fridays, so I really like to take advantage of visiting each of my doctors during this time, especially my for my well-woman visit. The great part is that most insurance providers cover annual woman’s exams, and it gives me a reason to visit my OBGYN, an amazing woman of color!
During my Summer 2016 visit, while my doctor was doing my breast exam, she came across a lump in my left breast. She asked me if I’d noticed it at any point prior to my visit, and I admitted that I had not, because the truth was that self-breast exams weren’t part of my self-care practices. She had me examine my left breast myself to feel the abnormality that she was referring to, and it was extremely obvious that something wasn’t quite right.
As a precautionary measure, she advised me to get a breast ultrasound to evaluate the lump. While my doctor was optimistic during my visit, I remember leaving feeling completely devastated. So devastated, that I cried right on Michigan Avenue, and called my mother to share the news!
If you can imagine, I felt a lot of shame and overwhelmed with fear. Shame in the fact that someone else discovered an irregularity in my body before I did…and when I tried to figure out how this could happen, the truth was that prior to that moment, it never really occurred to me how important self-breast exams were for my health! My fear came from the unknown – what would happen in one week when I had my ultrasound? What kind of news would I receive, and how would the news impact my life? I couldn’t help but think, I’m only twenty-something for crying out loud, and I came to realize that my youth didn’t exempt me from health conditions.
At that point, the only thing to do was to face my fear and find out what was going on, because if there’s one thing I’ve realized in life, it’s that avoiding problems neither solves them nor makes them disappear. The next week, I went to my ultrasound appoint feeling vulnerable and anxious. However, my sonographer was really kind and had a calming energy that made the experience other words, cancer free. She said that it was nothing to be concerned about, but an area that we should continue to keep an eye on. I was relieved – HALLEJUAH! After a week of having my smooth and painless.
Within the next 20-30 minutes, my sonographer was able to tell me that my cyst was benign, in very active imagination run wild with tons of scenarios, it was great to put my curiosity to rest.
The most important lesson that I learned from this experience was that I needed to establish a better relationship with my girls, and check in with my body more regularly. It also helped me not take my health for granted and made me take a more proactive approach in my preventative health instead of a reactive approach, which has been and will continue to be beneficial for my overall self-care. Now, I monitor my body regularly for changes and know to speak up with confidence if I do feel anything out of the ordinary. It’s not always the most convenient thing to do with a busy schedule, but Bright Pink’s has a really great resource called breast health reminders that can help you do so once a month. Sign up for these reminders here, and Bright Pink will send you a monthly text so you’ll never forget!