A couple weeks ago I was reflecting on who I am. I reported to the blog, that I am an academic, but further reflection has me questioning that. Mostly in the form of what type of academic. Since diagnosis, I haven’t been able to read a single academic article. I’ve browsed through a few, but my concentration and interest have not been there. I’m may not be approaching this ‘cancer’ problem as an academic, but I do want to approach it as an educator.
I don’t call myself a teacher. To me, teacher means the person who leads K-12 classrooms – a person who helps kids learn. I don’t work with kids. I don’t even work with the average adult. When I teach, it is usually to professionals – I teach teachers and doctors how to use technology. I educate, I don’t teach.
I also educate through my writing. As an instructional designer, I have done a lot of educational writing. I create training programs and packages that are designed to help professionals learn new skills.
But what does that have to do with this? I find myself wondering how my cancer can be turned into an educational experience? Who would I be educating? Who can learn from my experiences? How can I make most out of this experience from an educational point of view.
In the first part, I want people to learn what a ‘lump’ in the breast feels like. I kind of wish more residents were involved in my care at Stanford – more people taking an interest and learning from my experience. I had no idea what a cancerous lump felt like, even when it happened to me. I recall in a health education class the nurse bringing in a mannequin breast that had a lump in it, to give us a sense of what a lump felt like. I also remember never being able to feel that lump. I remember feeling my young breasts as a teenager and wondering if everything I felt was a lump – as I had pretty lumpy breasts (not a lot of fatty breast tissue back then – perhaps they taught the class a little too early for me!).
This links me directly to a charity that Sarah Outen supports on her round-the-world human powered journey. I’ve been following Sarah’s journey since it began a couple of years ago. One of the charities she is fundraising for is called “Coppafeel“, and it is about awareness for breast cancer in young women. The idea is to get women used to the habit of checking their breast every time they get in the shower. They will even sent you reminders if you sign up. I actually don’t recall where or when I picked that habit up, but I know that I did. I was never good at the laying down in bed and checking once a month, but I did form the habit of inspecting my breasts every time I got in the shower. That is how I knew that something had changed – that after my bike ride June 1st there was a mass there that had not been there before. I didn’t realize at the time that it was cancer – I thought that after the somewhat rough bike ride (a lot was on dirt path) that perhaps I had strained something – although it wasn’t sore, it was just solid. One thing I really want to point out here, is that it isn’t necessarily about feeling a ‘lump’, rather it is about noticing a change. In young women (under 45) most breast cancers are found through self-examination – you feel something has changed.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that although you are at increased risk for breast cancer if an immediate family member has had it, “about 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.”(http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics). So, although there is a lot of press about the hereditary breast cancers, for the majority of women, it is a completely unexpected thing that happens. In some ways, the press about hereditary cancers hinders things like screening, as women think that because no one in their family has had it, then it couldn’t happen to them. I certainly thought that. Breast cancer was never something that I was even remotely concerned about (although I still inspected my boobs every time I got in the shower, cause, why not?).
So, all you women out there, get in the habit (especially if you are too young for routine mammograms) … every time you jump in the shower, coppafeel!