Guarding Your Health
by Carole Adam
with valuable input from Michal Mocton and Dr. Jackie Lewis
Most people are devastated when confronted with an illness like cancer. This is understandable; their lives and those of their families can be shattered by the experience. Fortunately, treatments are improving all the time and cure rates are increasing for most cancers. There are those people, however, who, although deeply affected, wish to use their experience to benefit others. Mrs. Michal Mocton is one of those special people who fall into the second category. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. At that time, she was the mother of four young children. Her diagnosis was followed by two surgeries, and later by sixteen sessions of chemotherapy and twenty sessions of radiotherapy.
Wanting to give other women the support she couldn’t find, she volunteered for a national charity called Breast Cancer Care. The charity merged and is now called Breast Cancer Now. They support women going through breast cancer and raise awareness about how to look for signs and symptoms and detect early stages.
As a volunteer, she received training to equip her with the ability to give breast awareness workshops and educate women about the signs and symptoms to look out for, and how to check for those signs.
Since then, she has been giving talks on the subject to groups of women, including discussions on the risk factors involved. Women over 50, she says, are more likely to be affected; and of those, Ashkenazi women are high risk, with the result that it is quite prevalent in the Jewish community. The older a woman is, the more likely she is to get it: 80 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 50. However, some young women, even in their twenties and thirties, are also being diagnosed.
Michal stresses that it’s very important to look after one’s overall health, following a healthy lifestyle of good nutrition and regular exercise. Dr Jackie Lewis explains that keeping to a healthy weight is important. This is not always very easy. However, it can help to have as few sugary and sweet foods as possible, to avoid ‘nosh’ (ultra-processed foods) and drink unsweetened tea, coffee and also water in preference to fizzy drinks, fruit juices or alcohol. Also, try to cut down on starchy foods, which are turned into glucose by your digestion. Those women who have very little bread, rice, pasta and potatoes usually find it easier to lose weight. They can fill up on meat, fish, eggs, cheeses, tofu, lentils, vegetables, fruit and low-sugar (or no-sugar) sauces or salad dressings. Avoiding eating late in the evening can be very valuable too, especially if combined with a late breakfast (as long as you feel well with this kind of mini overnight fast).
At the same time, it’s vital to keep on top of checking and looking out for changes or anything different in the breasts. You, yourself, she says, are in a better position than a nurse to perform the examinations. You know your body better than anyone else. If you find anything that’s not normal for you, go straight to your GP. The earlier the detection, the greater the likelihood of a good outcome.
Checking should be done regularly, every four to six weeks, on a specific day.
|There are eight signs to look out for:|
|– An inverted nipple (when it normally protrudes)|
– A thickening or lump
– Redness or rash (like eczema)
– A change in the shape or size of a breast
– Discharge from the nipple
– Constant pain
– A change in skin texture
– Swelling in the armpit or around the collar bone.
However, as one also has to take into account that women’s breasts are also changing for other reasons—whether due to puberty, pregnancy, feeding or menopause—these signs do not necessarily indicate breast cancer. Still, they should be taken notice of. Michal warns that if your GP “fobs you off”, you should go to another GP in the practice.
Her instructions for self-examination are as follows, and although saying there’s no right or wrong way, she advises that this is a better way.
With the two index fingers, circle around the breast, up from the armpit to the collar bone, feeling for something not usually there. Dr Jackie Lewis recommends to first look at yourself when undressed, in a good light, in front of the mirror. Raise your arms and lower them again, in case changes or “pulling of the skin” become visible. This examination, she says, can be done in the bath or shower or lying down on your bed. If lying down, it helps to place one hand behind your head on the side you wish to examine and use the fingertips of the opposite hand to examine the breast. Then swap over hands and sides to examine the other breast.
Michal commented that men can also get breast cancer and can also benefit from checking. Because it’s always assumed that men don’t have breast tissue, if there is a problem, it often isn’t detected until later—which might not have such a favourable outcome.
Mammogram screening is another tool in the line of prevention. In Manchester, women aged 50–70 are invited for a non-invasive, relatively painless test once every three years. Although it’s not necessarily 100 per cent accurate, it’s a useful indicator, and Michal encourages women to make the most of the opportunity.
If you have a strong family history of cancer, says Dr Lewis—e.g. a close family member who developed cancer at a very early age, or two or more members of the immediate family who have or have had cancer—you may speak to your doctor about possible referral to the Family History Clinic.
Of course, all is in the hands of Hashem; but as with everything else, we have to make our hishtadlus (effort) in health matters too, constantly bearing in mind that not only are we responsible for caring for our loved ones, but that we must also do our best to care for the precious bodies He has so kindly given us.
Carole Adam lives in Manchester, UK. She loves doing chessed and runs a library from her home. Carole has a passion for the English language and writes many inspirational articles.