Boobs are one of those things that get weirder the longer you think about them– they’re fun blobs of fat that happen to produce infant nutrients when needed. They’re also one of cancer’s favorite playgrounds. The statistics are widespread– one in twelve American women will develop invasive breast cancer within her lifetime; breast cancer death rates are second only to lung cancer in the country; on and on. Every October, I check my boobs more often and more frantically than I usually do, and as the leaves lining my street turn and die, I cannot help but think of grimmer things.
There’s not much to it— it’s just grabbing a handful of boob and poking around hoping to not feel any inconsistencies. Of course, there’s a correct way of doing it (I’d consult your ob-gyn and not a twenty-year-old’s unedited ramblings), where the fingers walk a thorough, probing line across your chest, line after line, methodically feeling around so as to not miss a spot. It seems silly, that such a small bit of oneself can create so much disruption, and I feel silly, in the shower or at my desk, when my blood runs cold if I think I’ve felt something different. I know how breast cancer feels to the touch. I remember the feel of a tumor, not on me, no, but worse, on a woman who danced with rulers and read ahead silently while she was reading aloud to me. It’s a corner of the house I try to make nondescript.
Once, I had nothing better to do with my hands and remembered my mother’s reminder to check every once in a while, just to be on the safe side, so I idly let my fingers do their little line walks while I watched an episode of Arrested Development. As my pointer finger pressed into something hard and foreign, I broke into a cold sweat without thinking. Turns out, my pointer finger had just veered off course while I was distracted with Gob’s antics and had landed on a finger of my other hand. It’s not something I should be so on edge about, but still I have already formulated plans upon plans for what will happen in the case that it is not my other hand, that it is cancer. I just want to be prepared, I tell the people who know, I just want to feel ready for anything.
It’s easy, routine self-check ups like this. It’s another way to stay on top of things, though cancer’s not really one of those things you can stay on top of. Most of all, it’s a reminder to keep people close, to cherish them. So far, I’ve been lucky, both with my mother and with myself, but not everyone is. Staying in touch with your own body – physically and mentally – is not only a method of early detection. It’s a responsibility to yourself, to the people in your life. It’s an expression of love.