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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a reminder to do self-checks and mammograms

As I’m sure you’re aware, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And if you’ve read my column at all you know I lost my best friend to stage IV breast cancer in January 2020. So consider this your annual public service announcement to please do self-checks and get mammograms regularly. 

Self-checks are simple. It’s recommended to do them when your breasts are least tender so you can feel subtle changes better. Talk to your doctor for a demonstration on how to perform a self-check, or you can look online. 

Start with a visual check. Look for any changes in size, shape, coloration, or texture of the tissue. The Mayo Clinic recommends checking with your hands on your hips as well as having your arms raised over your head.

Then do a physical inspection using the pads of your fingers. Starting from the center, work your way out to the edges of the breast in lines, like sun rays. Check all the way around each breast using different levels of pressure. You want to check all the tissue from the surface to the deeper breast tissue.

Remember that if you do notice something different, it doesn’t mean cancer. There can be many reasons for finding small bumps or noticing slight changes. The most important thing is to talk to your doctor as soon as you can to schedule a mammogram and hopefully figure out the cause of the changes. 

Annual mammograms, especially if you’re 40-plus or are at risk for cancer, are the best tool for early cancer detection. Yes, they can be awkward and yes, your breast is squished for a brief minute. Women who have had mammograms say that the anticipation is worse than the actual exam. It’s normal to be a little nervous, but don’t let that stop you. According to Johns Hopkins, most mammograms can be done in five minutes or less. So, what’s stopping you?

In fact – I’m putting my money where my mouth is. Almost two years after losing my best friend, I’ve scheduled my very first mammogram. It’s time. And I want to make sure I’m taking my breast health seriously – for myself, my daughter, and my best friend’s three daughters.

Allison Wells is a wife, mother of four and an author. Her motto is "Life is short, eat the Oreos." Visit her online at