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How two visually impaired women are saving lives of countless other women

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. So the only thing to really be afraid of is if you don’t go get your mammograms.” – Cynthia Nixon

Ever since I was a child, any talk about the female reproductive system or secondary sexual characteristics was stigmatized in the community. Every time I would go for any hospital visits, the nurse always made sure I was alone before asking me, in hushed tones, when my last period was.

Sadly, it’s not only the nurses who have been silenced to ask young girls questions about normal bodily processes and symptoms but almost everyone in the community. It is quite a shock to me when I am told that this is the most open it has ever been. This made me wonder about women who have lived silenced their whole lives about their health because it spanned their reproductive system or secondary sexual characteristics…

A few days ago, I came across two women, Noor and Ayesha, who have total vision impairment. They work as Breast Medical Tactile Examiners (MTEs) at Cytecare Cancer Hospital, a leading cancer specialist hospital in South India. They do medical screening examinations – specifically clinical breast examinations (CBEs).

Noor and Ayesha rely entirely on their sense of touch to conduct the analysis. Their methods accurately detect any early signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Dreaming of entering the medical field since they were children, both Noor said that this opportunity of being an MTE “was a dream and helped her save the lives of many women with early detection.”

During their training that lasted a year, they were taught about human anatomy through models and methodologies through which they conduct their screenings (such as pressure to find the depth of a tumor).

During our talks, they highlighted that some of the women they examine do not feel comfortable, but their reassurance that a CBE is the most accurate, non-invasive method of detecting breast cancer helps comfort them, especially since many women diagnosed with breast cancer say that they do not feel any symptoms before getting a mammogram.

Breast cancers, once set, double in size every 180 days, so they suggest that women get CBEs done once a month or at least conduct self-examination once a month after hitting puberty. “The ideal time to conduct an examination is seven days after the start of your period,” said Ayesha.

“When you apply soap while taking a shower, touch around your breast with two fingers and feel for any lumps or dimples. Then, lightly squeeze your nipple to see if any secretions come out. Or stand in front of the mirror, keeping your hand below your breast for support, and look for any changes in the shape or contour of the breast. Look out for inverted nipples and changes in breast shape – especially if one is bigger or smaller than the other.”

She also heeded that sometimes these exams can trigger false alarms as breasts come in all different shapes and sizes, “look out for changes that are sudden,” she warned. “We look out for two types of tumors- mobile and non-mobile,” said Noor, “usually, mobile tumors are benign, but this is not always the case.”

Each year, millions of people and their loved ones are affected by breast cancer. In fact, it is the second most common type of cancer in women after skin cancer. Breast Cancer is when specific cells in the breast start dividing rapidly and cause tumors. These tumors can then migrate to different parts of the body and cause other types of cancer.

These cancers are not just common in women; they can affect men as well. October is breast cancer awareness month- a time dedicated to spreading information about the disease, its effects, symptoms and its ramifications not only on the patient, but also their family, friends, and their caretakers.

Breast cancer awareness month is celebrated yearly to help women receive proper education about breast cancer. Even though breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer around the world, there is still an astonishing number of women who have no knowledge of this disease because of the lack of education and stigma surrounding the issue.

Through this education, medical professionals hope that women will not feel shy to come forward not only about this aspect of their health but other aspects as well. More than 85% of women with breast cancer have no previous family history of it.

Therefore, conducting thorough at-home examinations or going to an MTE can help with early detection and subsequently save countless lives of women across the globe!

To provide good healthcare, we must break the cycle of stigmatizing certain aspects of it. Remember, breast cancer is curable with early detection. That is why it is crucial that early diagnosis is given importance so they have the best chance for successful treatment.

Breaking the stigma attached to breast cancer diagnosis is key to creating a supportive environment for the patient to seek corrective treatment and conquer the disease. Remember, cancer doesn’t care, so you should!

“Prevention is better than cure! It might save your life. Whatever you find in your breast examination, please do not feel shy to come forward. I know that people might feel shy, but their health is important. So please approach your medical professional and get tested often!” 

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