In honor of breast cancer awareness month and all women who have been touched by breast cancer, I decided to interview my colleague and dear friend Alyssa Millman on everyday breast health awareness and what women can do to be proactive in their own breast care. Enjoy!
Nicole: What is your title and what do you do exactly?
Alyssa: Breast Health Advocate; Supportive Oncology & Breast Surgery Massage Specialist. I empower and encourage women to get in touch with their breasts and bodies. I am a Bodyworker, Energy worker, and Breast Health Educator. I work predominantly with people living with cancer, specifically women living with breast cancer. I work with women at all stages of the process from newly diagnosed, to immediately following surgery, to many years after reconstruction. I specialize in scar + mastectomy massage, as well as end of life and hospice care
Nicole: What does October mean to you? (breast cancer awareness month).
Alyssa: I am thrilled that we dedicate October to breast cancer awareness, although it is disconcerting that as a society we don’t instill awareness and preventative choices all of the time. To answer your question: to me, October is simply another month as I make it a point to speak about prevention and self care every day- at the airport, at the grocery store, on the bus…Once while bra shopping at a department store, I ended up with all of the lingerie sales associates around me giving an impromptu talk on the importance of breast self-massage and why choosing underwire bras can be detrimental.
Nicole: Why is what you’re doing so important?
Alyssa: What I am doing is important because I am giving women permission to get in touch with their bodies by sharing tools, ideas, tips, education and resources on simple ways they can not only take prevention into their own hands, but get to know their bodies and focus on self care.
Nicole: How can women become more proactive in their breast healthcare?
Alyssa: Women can be proactive in their own breast health immediately. Here are some of my favorite tips:
1. Breast self- massage is my number one favorite tip [not to be confused with a breast self exam]. I call it PHLUFFING the Girls, which was introduced to me and created by my mentor, teacher, and dear friend Cheryl Chapman. PHLUFF is an acronym for Personal Hand Lymphatic Undulation Flow Facilitation. Phluffing is a safe, easy, gentle movement given to the breasts at least twice a day. Breasts are the least touched part of a woman’s body. The body’s immune system circulates lymph fluid to destroy cancer cells, viruses, bacteria, microorganisms and waste material. When this lymph fluid is restricted, as with a bra, the lymph cannot circulate freely in the breast. Daily Phluffing softens the breast and increases awareness of changes in the breast tissue. Phluffing also keeps breast tissue supple, decreases pain and tenderness- especially during menses, and decreases fibrosis and “lumpy” breasts.
~Bend at waist or stand upright
~Cup your hands under each breast.
~Gently move your hand in an up and down motion as if fluffing a pillow.
~Phluff about 10 times
~Place the side of each hand under one breast onto the ribs.
~Move your hand left to right in a sideways motion, about 10 times
~Repeat for other breast
~Lift the bra straps and move up & down.
~Place your hands on each breast & gently press in as if beeping a horn.
This is best done when sitting at a red light, watching TV, or any place at anytime. Do it 10 times or more!
2. Ditch your bra! Many women have told me they’ve eliminated the lumpiness of their breasts and reduced their premenstrual tenderness by BANNING their BRA! In a study of 5,000 women, those who reported irritation and red marks from wearing a bra were twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those who did not. Women who wore bras for more than 12 hours a day increased their risk by a factor of SIX! Women who generally go braless reduce their risk by a factor of 20. The elastic of the bra encircling the chest effectively hinders immune response, slows lymph fluid circulation, and traps energy in the breasts. Underwire bras magnify the problem. This is also where daily self breast massage is important! Especially massaging the ribs where the underwire (or non underwire) sits. This is called Rotter’s Space. This is the main spot where the lymph flow of our breasts takes place. It’s hugely important for lymph to be able to move from our breasts. Stagnant lymph and emotions (remember, our heart chakra is right there) are one of the lead causes of breast discomfort, lumps, and breast cancer. How about searching for a wireless bra? They come in all shapes and sizes. I’m a size 34DD and I own 5.
3. Exercise. Women who exercise regularly are 35 percent less likely to get breast cancer. Exercise directly decreases estradiol absorption and also stops the formation of carcinogenic metabolic by-products from the breakdown of estrogens. Exercise improves the functioning of the immune system and relieves stress. Even 5 minutes, three or four times a day, counts as exercise. Take the stairs at work, jump on a trampoline (you can find them at any sporting goods store for just about $40), jumping jacks, or a Yoga video on YouTube.
4. Diet. *Take your caffeine intake down a notch, or eliminate it altogether. Although there is no hard evidence that caffeine affects breast health, some women are certainly affected by caffeine more than others. If you are experiencing breast tenderness and have been told you have fibrocystic breasts, try eliminating caffeine and see how you feel. *Have a look at your fat intake. Trans + Hydrogenated fats are known to affect hormones. *Have a look at your saturated fat intake i.e. meats and dairy. Concentrated fats are also proven to affect hormones. It is important to alkalinize your diet. Not only will this help with balancing hormones, but it will relieve muscle aches and pains as well as aid in sleep and stress reduction.
5. Say “no.” No, thank you. No, I can’t today. No, not right now. No, I don’t like that. No, that doesn’t feel good. We need to look at ourselves, our lives and our relationships and ask ourselves what’s working and what’s not. There are thousands of studies that show how dis-ease is directly linked to emotion and stress. Take time for YOU. Set your alarm 10 minutes earlier in the morning and write a list of the things you are grateful for, meditate, or journal. Schedule in a half hour a few times each week for FUN. Don’t you deserve a little pleasure? You work hard, don’t you? Fun can be anything- it doesn’t mean going out and partying. Fun can mean reading a book, dancing around your living room, taking time to be intimate with your partner, taking time to be intimate with yourself, a bath, exercise, lighting a candle and having a cup of your favorite tea. Try it. See how good you feel. When we take care of ourselves, we always have more to give to others.
6. Self Breast Exam. A good time to examine your breasts is after the doctor does the exam in his/her office. This will give you a baseline to what is normal for you (ALTHOUGH, it is never too soon OR too late to begin self breast exams… spending time with yourSELF is IMPORTANT! I’m simply giving you lots of options here..so there are no excuses as to WHY you haven’t yet begun to love your ladies). Explain to the doctor that you plan to begin self exams. She should assist you and give you more information.
YOUR BREASTS SHOULD BE TOUCHED WITH LOVE AND RESPECT. LOVE AND RESPECT IS THE ENERGY THAT SHOULD ENTER EACH BREAST.
Nicole: What is considered normal during a self breast exam and what isn’t?
Alyssa: This varies from woman to woman, breast to breast. About 60 percent of the women in the US have fibrocystic breasts. Large lumps and dense tissue is normal. It is also normal for some women to experience pain when touching their breasts or doing a self exam. The more you examine your breasts, the more you will learn about them and the easier it will be for you to tell if something feels unusual.
*The best time to do a Breast self-exam is a few days after your period when your breasts are less likely to be swollen, tender, or full of fluid.
*If you feel a lump, don’t freak. Remember, 60 percent of women have fibrocystic breasts.
Your breasts can be divided into quadrants. What you feel in the upper/outer quadrant near your armpit (which is known to be the lumpier, bumpier portion of the breast)might be different than what you feel around your areola. What’s most important is for us to know the look and feel of our breasts’ different areas. Does something stand out or feel more obvious over time? You can consider keeping a breast journal. Write down what you see and feel.
Nicole: How can women spread the word or get more involved in breast health awareness?
Alyssa: Forward this blog post to all of the women that you love. Your mother, sister, best friend, daughter, next-door neighbor. Pick one thing that you learned in reading this and share it. Be proactive in your own breast health, and reap the benefits and share your experience. It’s never too late to begin taking care of yourself.
If you would like to ask Alyssa a question, go ahead and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She can talk about this stuff all day long so don’t be shy!