California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

    Go beyond pink ribbons and educate yourself

    I’ve often wondered how old the youngest patient diagnosed with breast cancer was. Less than eight months ago, at 20 years old, I found myself wondering whether I would make history.

    In late February, during a routine Pap smear, my gynecologist discovered a sizeable lump in my right breast. I was assured that due to my age and health the mass was likely nothing of great concern.

    I booked a consultation with surgical oncologist and general surgeon Dr. Mai Brooks. Brooks practices locally in Thousand Oaks and her primary clinical focus includes breast disease.

    After an ultrasound, Brooks quickly determined the lump was not a cyst and was likely a tumor.  The tumor was approximately two sonograms, which in English means about one inch.

    It was recommended that any solid mass over one inch be removed, but I was assured my situation was not the least bit terminal.

    After researching and discussing all alternatives with my parents, we decided the wisest option was to have the lump surgically removed entirely. After it was removed the lump would be tested for breast cancer, among other things.

    On April 6, Brooks and the medical staff of Los Robles SurgiCenter executed a flawless breast mass removal.

    Shortly after I’d woken from the surgery, still foggy from the anesthesia, my mom mentioned Brooks had stopped by my bed, confirming the mass was a tumor.

    The word “cancer” consumed my thoughts, and again I found myself wondering how old the youngest woman to have breast cancer was.

    Recovery was slow and painful, but successful. Although I was told the test results would take one week, I was grateful when Brooks called me herself in less than three days.  The mass was a fibroadenoma, meaning it was a benign breast tumor. I was happily not going down in history.

    Although the surgery and the journey to it were not easy, what was even more difficult was listening to my friends and peers react to my news.  I was met with disbelief and refusal to believe cancer was even a possibility.

    One of my closest friends, who is 21, decided because I was 20 the mass wouldn’t possibly be a tumor.

    Another friend, also 21, announced she hadn’t had a Pap smear yet because she wasn’t sexually active. I myself had not known I should be conducting self-breast exams regularly.

    It was then that I realized how unaware and uneducated women in their late teens and early twenties are in regards to breast cancer.

    Young adults purchase “I heart boobies” bracelets and wear pink accessories during the month of October, but female college students are not truly conscious of breast health.

    Brooks acknowledges this unawareness.

    “Most college-age students probably don’t examine themselves. It does happen to people in their twenties. It’s critical because they [breast masses] tend to be more aggressive pre-menopausal,” said Brooks.

    Brooks recommends that women with all risk levels should check their breasts once a month, one week after your period.

    You may be at a higher risk if you have a familial history of breast cancer, or if you have had previous radiation near your chest area.

    According to Brooks, the most recent recommendation for Pap smears is to schedule one every three years beginning at age 21.

    However, young women can schedule a Pap or seek medical attention at a younger age as well.

    “Certainly when they become sexually active they should go to a gynecologist for a pelvic exam,” said Brooks.

    According to CLU Student Health Services, students can schedule a “well-woman exam” in-office for $50, regardless of insurance status.

    This general physical exam includes a Pap smear, breast exam, and gonorrhea and chlamydia testing.

    California Lutheran University Student Life’s Wellness Programs also offers breast health advice for women.

    The program’s web page offers useful step-by-step instructions on conducting self exams.

    Wellness Programs Senior Coordinator Amanda Namba recommends college students inform themselves for preventative purposes.

    “Cancer is something people feel like affects others and doesn’t affect them and we need to take the steps to live healthy lives and that includes self-exams and regular checks,” said Namba.

    Wellness Programs is available for questions and advice.  Namba said oftentimes students are simply nervous about asking questions or making the necessary appointments, and Wellness Programs is available for help.

    It’s easy to be uninformed of a pertinent medical issue if only a small possibility of you being affected by it exists.

    But National Breast Cancer Awareness Month should be about more than donating money and purchasing pink ribbons.

    Young women should use this month and the information offered during it to educate themselves about breast health, because the next 20 year old affected could be you.

    For more information on breast cancer from Brooks and other local doctors, contact Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center at 1-877-888-LRHMC to R.S.V.P. to a free breast cancer awareness seminar at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Oct. 20.

    Katherine Sullivan
    Guest Columnist
    Published Oct. 17, 2012

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