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Pink ribbons. Boob-shaped cupcakes. Magenta tortilla chips. October, with all of its breast cancer messaging, is coming to a close and we didn't want the opportunity to pass without reminding our Bikini.com squad that early detection is key in successfully winning the fight against the big C. Self-examination is something our doctors always tell us to do monthly, and photographer Jennifer Rozenbaum is a living symbol of how crucial this private assessment of our bodies really is. Rozembaum had a double mastectomy in 2017 after she was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma, a difficult-to-diagnose cancer that doesn't present itself in traditional tumor form. We asked her to share her story and her own personal self-examination method with us in hopes that it will inspire you to check yourself thoroughly and often.

Rozenbaum's experience became a creative spark for her #shamelesslyfeminine boudoir photo project, which captures women in empowering, gorgeous moments. She's also got a book in the works and produces a podcast, proving that cancer has definitely not kicked her ass. Read on for Rozenbaum's inspiring story. 

"If you are like me, you have seen the reminders and diagrams about breast self-exams over and over. Your doctor reminds you to do them. Every October, everything from tortilla chips to football uniforms turns pink. There's no escaping it. You know you have to do self-exams... but you don't. You think you're safe because you drink green juice or you don't have any family history. Maybe your brain can't grasp that breast cancer might hit you, too.

I know because I was that person. I even thought it couldn't be me when one day I felt a growth in my breast. I figured it was a swollen muscle or an injury from working out. I didn't want to 'bother' the doctor or 'be annoying,' so I waited until my scheduled sonogram to ask about it. In January 2017, I had a mammogram and sonogram that came back clear. My doctor mentioned that he saw a few small cysts and asked me to come back in six months later to have them checked. I felt the mass in my breast somewhere during that span of time. It didn't feel like a tumor, which is why I didn't call the doctor. It wasn't what we are taught to feel. I went back to see the doctor on July 10, 2017. I had my cysts checked and they seemed harmless. I asked the tech to check the growth I felt before I left and there it was. A huge black hole in the middle of the screen. I immediately had a biopsy and a titanium marker placed in the spot in question, followed by a mammogram. On the mammogram you could see the marker but no sign of the growth. Nevertheless, the doctor prepared me for what it might mean. 

On July 12, 2017, I got the call. I was told I had invasive lobular carcinoma. Breast cancer. Me. It was pretty surreal. ILC is a sneaky type of cancer because it lacks a protein that other cancers have that allow it to stick together and form a tumor. Instead, it grows within the lobules of the breast and is often extremely hard to detect by mammogram and sonogram. If I had not felt it and brought it to the attention of my doctors, well, I don't even want to think about what would have happened. 

My mass was seven centimeters and another mass around three centimeters was detected below that. To go from a clear sonogram to two large masses in six months meant my cancer was aggressive. I promised myself that I would tell anyone that would listen about self-detection. Ladies, we have to be our own advocates. We have to check our own breasts and check them often. Life changes in the blink of an eye. After my diagnosis, I had a bilateral mastectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy, and reconstruction surgery. It was a tough road and sometimes still is, but there isn't a day that goes by that I am not grateful I am here to live it. 

Even though I had a mastectomy, there is always a chance the cancer could come back, so I still check my breasts regularly. I do it in the shower while I am washing my body. I feel with my arms down, and again with my arms up. I feel in my armpits and around my implant as well as up across my chest below my collarbone (did you know there is breast tissue there too?). Believe it or not, I recently found a lump. I had it looked at immediately, and thankfully it is a small cyst that is non-concerning. You bet when I felt it I was on the phone with my doctor immediately and in the office the next day.

Be aware. No one is going to take care of you as thoroughly as you do. Eat well, keep up with your doctor appointments, and if you feel something in your breast, tell your doctor. Our intuition is the most powerful life guide we have. Trust it and follow it." — Jennifer Rozenbaum

 

How should a breast self-exam be performed?

1. In the shower: Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.

2. In front of a mirror: Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead. Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match — few women's breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.

3. Lying down: When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit. Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.