by JK, UK
I am a woman who has experienced a number of women’s health issues (see Part 1 on Endometriosis). One of those women’s health issues was mastitis. I also have a curiosity about women’s health statistics and articles on the state of women’s health today.
Around 10 years ago I had very sore lumpy breasts, much sorer than they were around the time of my period. I went to my GP and I was quickly referred to a local specialist Breast Clinic. On arrival at the Breast Clinic I underwent a series of tests and investigations, including what I experienced to be an uncomfortable mammogram. For those of you who have never experienced a mammogram, it is like having your breasts squashed and pressed between two cold, hard metal plates in the most awkward of positions, whilst standing half naked in the middle of a cold, clinical room. As I was standing there I was nervous as I was also wondering ‘do I have breast cancer?’. This specialist Breast Clinic offers a ‘one-stop’ shop in that over a couple of hours you have many x-rays, tests, examinations, and then you wait in a corridor of chairs to be called in and given your ‘diagnosis’.
On that day I had gone along on my own. I observed while I was in the waiting area that some women came out of the consultation rooms who were looking shocked and upset: I observed other women came out of the consultation room seemingly visibly relieved. I was very nervous waiting to be called in to be given a diagnosis. Then I was called in and told that the reason for my sore, painful, lumpy breasts was mastitis. Mastitis is a condition that causes a woman’s breast tissue to become painful and inflamed, often occurring in women when they are breastfeeding, though it can occur in non-breastfeeding women, as it did in my case. The doctor suggested some medication, gave me some information leaflets, and urged me to return to my GP if the symptoms did not dissipate within two weeks.
On leaving the clinic, as I approached my car I cried. I cried because I felt relief I didn’t have breast cancer, I cried because of the women I had seen in the clinic who had been visibly distressed and I cried also because I knew that the mastitis, even though it was not breast cancer, was a sign that something was not right with my body. I could feel my breasts were so sore that they were crying out to me for some help, some support, and a change in my life. I realised then that I could either continue to live my life the way I was living (i.e. driven, busy, forever supporting and helping others, self-critical, never feeling comfortable in my own skin, and exhausted) or I could take a look at my life and see if there was another way to live, and make some changes. Standing there in the carpark, I knew deep down that if I didn’t look at making changes in my life, I may in future be one of the statistics with a diagnosis of breast cancer. So from that time I began to allow myself to rest more, to take time out for me, and to resist my continuous need to ‘help’ others. Looking back at that time I now know my initial reaction was based upon the fear of getting breast cancer at some stage in the future.
Some years after this, through attending a presentation by Serge Benhayon of Universal Medicine, I was introduced to my first Esoteric Breast Massage (EBM): through this and subsequent EBM’s (always undertaken by Universal Medicine female practitioners), I got to feel how disconnected I was from my breasts and my body. I could also feel how I wasn’t truly caring for myself in my daily living (for example I was often quite tough on myself, pushing and striving).
With the support of having regular EBMs, and more recently the Esoteric Women’s Developers Groups I have attended, I was not offered an alternative to medical care or medical diagnosis, but a complement to it – in that I was prompted to look at my daily living choices, and the way I was living my life. As a consequence, I have made many lovingly supportive changes to the way I live (see my blog From Black Belt Kick boxer). To this end, nowadays my breasts are rarely sore, and if they are sore I know they are asking me to take a look at the way I am living. I am not perfect by any means, and all of this is work in progress for me, a continuous daily learning.
Some months ago I was reflecting on this, and how different my life is now to the time when I had the mastitis – and how soft and tender my breasts (and my whole body) can feel. I was curious about women’s health and in particular, breast cancer in the UK. So I explored the UK statistics for breast cancer in women. I found for instance, in the UK there are just under 50,000 new cases of breast cancer in women per year; 900 women per week are diagnosed with it; in 2010 136 women a day were diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK; and 1,000 women there die every month from breast cancer. Worldwide it is estimated that more than 1.38 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. It is likely that all of us, if we haven’t had breast cancer, will know someone who has.
I was curious as to what kind of treatments were being offered to women with breast cancer. Last year Cancer Research UK spent £42 million on breast cancer research alone. Breakthrough Breast Cancer had 85,000 funding donors last year, and spent £10.5 million on breast cancer research. One of the things I found interesting as I was reading the various website resources and reflecting on this, was that Breakthrough Breast Cancer (who began their work in 1991) have one aim – ‘to stop women dying from breast cancer’ – and whilst they have looked for causes of breast cancer (mainly via research into genetics, e.g. in their ‘Generations Study’), the focus didn’t seem to be on asking the question ‘why do women get breast cancer?’ in a more general way (not just looking at genetics), or ‘how are women living their lives today and is this in any way connected to the occurrence of breast cancer?’ This is not offered as a criticism but rather a pondering on other questions to be asked.
Why am I raising this?
I found at the time of having mastitis (and more recently), whilst there is plenty of information on websites, and in books, fliers and leaflets (e.g. at my GP surgery) about breast cancer, breast health, mastitis and related women’s health issues, I didn’t find anything that prompted me to reflect on the way I was living my life: and whether for instance, the way I was living my life was having an impact on my physical health and wellbeing (e.g. in my having mastitis). Whilst I found the medical support I received for the mastitis helpful, being prompted a few years later during a series of Esoteric Breast Massages to reflect on the way I was living my life gave me a deeper understanding of my physical body, and of how the way I lived my life affected my physical health and wellbeing. I wondered how much awareness there is by the medical profession of the link between how we live our lives and the impact that has on our physical body. I also wondered how different our visits to the doctor or hospital would be if we were asked by the doctors or nurses about the way we were living our lives so as to support us to realise the link between that and the symptoms we have in our bodies?
What I am now wondering is:
What if the medical profession considered more deeply the link between the way we live our lives and the impact that has on our physical body? And in that, they encouraged us to consider that having a diagnosis of say, mastitis, could be our physical body asking us to take a look at how the way we are living our lives may be affecting our physical health and wellbeing?
Is it possible that the way we are living our lives as women is having an effect on our health and wellbeing? And what if some of the research funds were directed at understanding this more – on understanding how women live their lives and the daily living choices they make, and whether or how these impact on their health?
What if some of the research funds were focussed on tracking and writing up the stories of women who have made changes to their daily living – insofar as their women’s health condition has perhaps subsided – and they are now truly vital, harmonious, and flourishing? Could these stories inspire other women to look at their own lives and daily living choices?
What if part of the missing link was something all women deeply know – that there is far more to breast cancer than the diagnosis, the genetics and the treatment, and that as women (and men) we could all ponder more deeply on this together, and find our way back to true health?
Maybe, in considering these questions this could open up women’s health to a different and deeper place, one where women (and men) together could deepen their understanding of women’s health and wellbeing?
Statistics taken from:
Breakthrough Breast Cancer – http://www.breakthrough.org.uk
Cancer Research UK – http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/type/breast-cancer/