Taking care of the girls... because you’re worth it

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“Why do men have nipples anyway?” was the question this week. I was out bra shopping with one of my daughters. A shopping first for us both and as it happened, much more interesting than shopping for school uniforms or books. I thought about it for a minutes, “I don’t know” I replied before reminding her that she is going back to school in two weeks and could ask her biology teacher.

“Why do men have nipples anyway?” was the question this week. I was out bra shopping with one of my daughters. A shopping first for us both and as it happened, much more interesting than shopping for school uniforms or books. I thought about it for a minutes, “I don’t know” I replied before reminding her that she is going back to school in two weeks and could ask her biology teacher.

She got measured, hiding her embarrassment well, and went off to explore the hundreds of bras hanging daintily from rails all around the shop. “Do you want me to measure you too?” the matronly assistant asked, holding the tape in front of my eyes.

My boobs felt like they had been run over by a tank after a mammogram the previous week. I politely declined the offer and joined my daughter in the bra maze instead.

She went for a practical bra in black. Then she got one in white. Then she wanted one in pink. Why wouldn’t she?

“Two bras is plenty to be getting on with,” I walked behind, ushering her along like a lost sheep to the check out. “You’re going to be growing fast over the next few months” “Shh” “Your breasts will get bigger” “Shhh” “You may be a totally different size by Christmas” “Shhhh” she put her hand over my mouth.

‘Dumplings’, ‘boulders’, ‘boobs’, ‘coconuts’, ‘dingleboppers’, ‘jugs’, ‘baps’, ‘knockers’, ‘puppies’, ‘the girls’ or ‘mammaries’, whatever you call them, we all have them. This was the first time that she and I had ever taken the time out to focus on nothing else but them for an hour. Hers are growing, while mine are turning into large uncooked dough balls about to plunge south. We are at very different stages of life.

“You’re so embarrassing” she hissed. There was no point defending myself. Parents of teens will understand. The music that I listen to, the way I answer the phone, the way I wave at the postman, the list goes on and on. But breast talk should not be embarrassing.

Every year over 2,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Ireland alone and a staggering 660 women die. Though more common in the over 50s, women of any age can get it. The good news is that better treatment means that more women are surviving. The bad news is that the number of cases is rising.

As breast cancer runs in the family, my daughters and I need to be especially vigilant. You have an increased risk if a close family member had it.

So I brought the subject up again later that evening. With a flick of a switch, the Wi-Fi went off, they came out of their rooms and sat on the sofa.

I tried to imagine that I was Dr Pixie from Channel 4’s ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ as I sat on a stool in front of the three girls and held up various breast examination leaflets. I picked them up from the breast clinic the previous week.

My daughters were horrified. One covered her ears, the other her eyes and the third her mouth.

“Checking your boobs is not difficult. All you have to do is get to know them, the shape, the feel and the look” I started.

I may have well been speaking Japanese. “I examine mine every Monday morning. It takes five minutes and is part of my weekly routine”. “Ughhh. Mum! Too much information,” groaned the eldest.

They left the sofa after five minutes. It was proving far too embarrassing for them. Who wants to listen to their mother banging on about breasts when ‘Fashion Police’ is on? I left the leaflets in their bedrooms. Maybe they’ll read them when I’m not looking or when Joan Rivers has finished bitching about every other woman on the planet.

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and 1 in 10 of us will get it. Early detection is the key. There is no time like the present to make self-examination part of your weekly routine. Daughters, sisters, aunts, grannies, here’s how to get to know your knockers.

1. Stand in front of a mirror, with your shoulders straight and your hands on your hips and look at your breasts. Study the shape. Over time, look for any changes in them. Has one become bigger than the other? Are they are their normal shape, size and colour. Is there any swelling or puckering? Raise your arms above your head and look for the same changes.

2. Lie down and with your hand, imagine that your breast is a clock face. Start at 1pm and with the first few finger pads of your hand, feel firmly from the nipple to the outside edge of the breast using a left hand for the right breast and vice versa. Work your way methodically around 2pm, 3pm etc, until you have covered the whole ‘clock’ surface. Feel for thickening, lumps or tenderness.

3. Next, pay attention to the nipple area. Look for any changes to the skin. Has it become flaky? Is there a rash? It there any crusted skin? Has the nipple itself changed? Has it flattened? Has it changed direction? Is there any discharge? Is it watery, bloody or yellow in colour? Has the nipple always looked like it does today or has it changed?

4. The shower is the place to carry out the final part of your examination. It is easy because both your hands and breasts are wet and slippery (I do it while the conditioner is in my hair). Feel your entire breast area once again using the clock face method. Press firmly with your fingers and be methodical. Any changes that you find, any pain that you have, go and see your GP without hesitation.

Five minutes once a week is all it takes. That’s about the time it takes to make a cup of tea. Become breast aware today. Why? Because you’re worth it.