Know what you have part 2

**Disclaimer** This post covers sensitive medical and wellness related topics involving breast cancer and preventative reproductive screenings. If you feel uncomfortable discussing or reading about these topics, please skip this post. I won’t be offended because I know you’ll be back! Additionally, I am NOT a medical professional. I am simply a patient and health/wellness blogger giving my opinion on how to be proactive with women’s health issues. Please consult your own physician with any individual medical questions or concerns.

Before you read Part 2, please take a moment to read part 1 of this post: Know you what you have part 1

In October of 2013, I returned to my OB/GYN to have my annual well woman exam. I wasn’t as nervous as the previous year, and knew what to expect as far as having those “tough conversations” go. I did get a bit emotional while the nurse was taking my vitals and updating my records on their new computer system.

Family history:

  • Mother: deceased
  • Maternal grandmother: deceased
  • Paternal grandfather: deceased
  • Paternal grandmother: deceased

Needless to say, seeing it all there, in my face, on that screen was a little tough to handle. And I couldn’t help but get a bit weepy as she pumped the blood pressure cuff around my arm. Four of the seven core people in my immediate family are no longer with us. And even though it’s been a year and a half since my mother’s passing, and almost 10 years since that first death of my maternal grandmother, these losses still shake my soul.

I soon found out that my doctor had just recently lost her mother, and that this was her first day back to work. Oye. It turned out to be much more of an emotional visit than I had anticipated! But, such is life… Even doctors lose their loved ones.

Just like the previous year’s exam, we started with a routine pap smear, pelvic exam, and breast exam. We talked a bit about nutrition, exercise, and life in general. During the pelvic exam she suggested that I follow up with a yearly pelvic sonogram, and urged me to schedule it before I left the office that day. Of course, the worst case scenario goes through your mind in a moment like this, and I immediately asked her if there was something I should be concerned about. She assured me that everything appeared to be ok, but with a history of breast cancer, comes a increased risk of ovarian cancer, and that the sonogram would be another form of surveillance in my prevention plan.

And, like last year, the BRACanalysis conversation came up again. As I knew it would. I hadn’t thought much about it since that initial conversation last year. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but more because I wasn’t prepared for any outstanding costs that may come with it. I had done some research on it after our original conversation, and thought about the possibility of some insurances not covering genetic testing, so I was a bit concerned I may get stuck with a bill I wasn’t prepared to pay for.


My doctor assured me that with my type of insurance, and family history, I would be covered. Before I knew it, I was making an appointment for a preventative pelvic sonogram, BRCA consultation, and blood work for genetic testing.

Flash forward a few months and my appointment day was here. On the first day of my winter break from school, I woke up early to head over to my OB/GYN for my procedures.

I have had a pelvic ultrasound in the past, so I knew exactly what to expect. The whole point of this exam is to get a better view of what’s going on with your uterus, ovaries and cervix, through a sonogram, which is pretty much exactly like the sonograms used to observe a baby while in the womb. Except, when you’re pregnant, the scan happens through the outside of the mother’s belly. During a pelvic ultrasound, everything is internal. Basically you will remove your clothing from the waist down (don’t worry, you’ll get a blanket for added privacy!), then you’ll sit on a chair much like the one that you sit in for a pap smear. You’ll place your feet into stirrups, again, like a pap, then the technician will dim the lights and insert a transducer into your vagina (which is a roundish, short, tool in which they will cover with a conducting lubricant for easy insertion and movement). Once the transducer is inserted, the technician will use a monitor to measure, evaluate and observe your pelvic area.

This ultrasound test may include documenting:

  • Size, shape, and position of the uterus and ovaries.
  • Thickness, density, and presence of fluids or masses in the endometrium, myometrium (uterine muscle tissue), fallopian tubes, or in or near the bladder.
  • Length and thickness of the cervix.
  • Changes in bladder shape.
  • Blood flow through pelvic organs.

Now while a pelvic ultrasound will not be able to diagnose specific things like cancer, for example, it can show abnormalities, such as cysts and potentially dangerous changes in the pelvic area, that could lead to more serious issues, making this an extremely important prevention screening.

The entire exam took around 5 minutes, and was painless and easy, aside from the slight pressure you’ll feel from the transducer when inserted. As always, the more relaxed and calm you are, the easier these screenings will go. During the procedure, the technician walked me through what I was seeing on the screen, explaining to me how everything looked A-ok. Of course, all data collected is sent to the doctor for further review, but again, I received a clean bill of health from her once we met after the sonogram.

Once the ultrasound was complete, I went and met up with my doctor to discuss the ins and outs of the BRACanalysis. We sat down for about 20 minutes discussing what BRACanalysis was, a timeline of events, and decisions I may be faced with if, in fact, the genetic testing comes back positive for any genetic mutations I may be carrying, that could increase my risk developing cancer.

gfihgfjhgfMost cancer occurs by chance, however, in some families, cancer is more prevalent than just by chance alone. Determining how these trends and patterns relate to genetic mutation is an important tool used in the fight against cancer. Because my mom was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer, chances of it being genetic are good. Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC) is an inherited condition that causes an increased risk for ovarian, breast, pancreatic, and prostrate cancer due to an alteration or gene mutation in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which can be inherited from both a mother or a father. A person may have an inherited risk of developing a HBOC if:

  • You or a family member were diagnosed with breast cancer prior to age 50, or ovarian cancer at any age.
  • You or a family member were diagnosed with 2 breast cancers, or triple negative breast cancer at any age. (this applies to me).
  • There is already information regarding gene mutations in your family.
  • There are three or more HBOC-associated cancers in your family at any age (breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostrate). (this also applies to me).

If a mutation of either BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes is found, the chances of developing cancer increase significantly compared to just developing them by chance. Breast cancer increases from 8% (general population) to up to 87% (gene mutation). Ovarian cancer from less than 1% to up to 44%. Secondary breast cancer from 11% to up to 64%, and pancreatic cancer, less than 1% to 7%. (These statistics reflect the average person by age 70 and are from 2013).

I knew, at that moment, that I would be going through with this test. Once we finished up our consultation, I went a few steps down to the next room and gave a blood sample. The sample will be sent off for analysis and within 3-4 weeks I should receive the results. Because I am the first of my family to participate in genetic testing, there aren’t any known gene mutations to compare my own genes with. Therefore I am participating in what’s called an Integrated BRACAnalysis, which includes a full examination of the most common changes of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes using the samples collected since the start of this test.

pplplpIf the results come back negative, and I do not carry a gene mutation, then I will continue with regular medical management based on general population cancer screening and personal family history. I will most likely begin breast sonograms once I reach the age of 35, and continue yearly pap smears and pelvic ultrasounds for additional prevention, all the while monitoring my own female health at home through self exams and paying attention to any changes out of the norm.

If the results come back positive, and I do carry a gene mutation in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, then there are a few routes I can take which involve either increased surveillance, including early mammograms, frequent breast and pelvic ultrasounds (twice a year), and blood tests every 6 months which would test for increased CA-125 levels in the blood (a cancer indicator). Additionally, I can start drug regimens which include, but are not limited to, birth control and tamoxifen, a type of chemo-prevention drug that has been shown to reduce the risk of genetic cancer in high risk women. And then there is the option of preventative surgery, having a double voluntary mastectomy and/or hysterectomy to eliminate almost all of my risk entirely. A mastectomy would also include reconstructive surgery, in which there are many options.

Since BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations may be passed on in a family, if I carry one of these mutations, there is a 50% chance that my parents, future children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even cousins have the same mutation. Since testing is the only way to determine if these mutations exist, I will be sharing my own results with my family, giving them the option to use my genes for them to be able to participate in the Single Site BRACAnalysis, if I test positive for a gene mutation.

Now while BRACanalysis will give me more insight into my own personal plan of action when it comes to developing hereditary cancers, it does not detect all causes of hereditary cancer. No insurance? Myriad, the company that has lead the way with genetic testing, offers patient financial assistance. Visit www.myriadpro.com for more details on their services. uhuhThis is a very long, and informative post, but I have failed to address the emotional side to all of this. How do I feel? Am I nervous? What will I do if my test results come back positive?

Honestly, the only moment where I felt nervous or emotional about this is when I was about to have the blood drawn, as I’m not a big fan of needles. I know I need to know. I know how important prevention is. I know that my mother missed 2 years of mammograms and that is why when they didn’t catch it, and why it had already developed into stage IV. I know that’s why she died. And if going through test after test, scan after scan, is going to prevent me from going through even 1 DAY of what my mother endured, then it’s worth it.

To me, knowing is not scary. Knowing gives me power to choose my destiny; to mold my future and my fate. Knowing gives me the tools to fight. Knowing is what will keep me on this earth far past the age of 57. Knowing will ensure I get to know my grandchildren. Knowing means life.

Since the day my mother took her last breath on April 11, 2012, I have done everything in my power to bring breast cancer prevention awareness to anyone who will listen. Don’t wait. Don’t put your health on the back burner.

Your health is important. You are important.

Update: I tested negative!

Steph <3



Sunday markets and baking with almond meal

When I met my boyfriend, he was just about to sell the house he was living in and start shopping for a place of his own. Just a couple of months into our relationship I was tagging along with him looking at houses throughout his favorite spots in Tampa. Our love was new, and no one really knew what the future would hold. But there’s one thing he made clear: his future was with me. He knew it early on (and so did I), and we’ve been inseparable ever since.

At the time we met, Brian was living in Temple Terrace. There were some perks to living there (a nearby favorite golf course being one), but he also had his eye on the Forest Hills area of Tampa, another decision driven somewhat by the fact that most of the houses are near a golf course (can you tell he loves golf?), and the fact that the price range of houses in that area are fantastic. However when the decision was finally made, he chose a house in the Seminole Heights area; his childhood neighborhood.

If you’re from Tampa, you know the area I’m speaking of. It’s a place where time has stood still. Most of the roads are still paved in brick, many of the houses are wrapped with wide porches, graced with swings and creaky wooden floors. Yards are spacious, and nothing is cookie cutter. Each house has its own charm and uniqueness. Seminole Heights is definitely a hidden gem.

After living here for a bit of time now, I’ve grown to love the area. It’s where I work. It’s where we play. It’s where I shop, dine out and explore. There are so many hidden spots sprinkled throughout Seminole Heights, and one of my all time favorites started back up for the 2013-2014 season: the Seminole Heights Sunday Morningย  Market.

SHSMM_New-LogoThe market is held the 2nd Sunday of the month from October to May, on the front lawn of Hillsborough High School on Central Avenue and Hillsborough Avenue from 9am-2pm. There are dozens upon dozens of tents, food trucks and farmer’s market booths selling everything from fresh produce and soap to local art and baked goods. Today as I walked around the market I noticed local vendors offering samples of freshly squeezed juices, homemade beef jerky, lotions, body scrubs, smoothies and more. Some of the local art featured things like metal sculptures, hand made quilts and jewelry. I love the feel of the market. Hillsborough High School is such a beautiful setting for something like this.

I was hoping to be able to score some #NSNG goodies at the market. Luckily I had some cash in my pocket because one of the first booths I stumbled across was one that featured a HUGE variety of dried fruits, vegetables and dry roasted nuts.

IMG_9037As I chatted with the owner about the market, he let me sample a few of the products. We talked a bit about NSNG and he introduced me to some delicious products that would definitely make life easier while eating this way. I walked away with THE most amazing dried pears, dried bing cherries, dried dates and dried apple rings. I also purchased some beet chips, a bag of almond meal, a bag of coconut flour, and some dry roasted pecans.

On the way out, I also purchased some fresh produce from the farmer’s market. Check out some of these veggies! I think those are hands down the largest carrots I’ve ever seen!



Here are a few more shots from the market. I’m already thinking about my next trip in December!






I couldn’t WAIT to get home and start working with some of the goodies I purchased. Today marks two weeks on No Sugar and No Grains, and now that I’m into a pretty good routine of what’s compliant and what’s not, I’m excited to get cooking and start experimenting with some recipe creations.

Now although #NSNG means no “bread” type items, I decided to try my hand at baking with different types of compliant flours, like coconut flour and almond meal/flour.

Now while I don’t know much about the science behind cooking with these alternative flours, I did some reading up on them tonight and realized that almond meal (ground up almonds) seems to be an excellent replacement for grain based flours. Check out this post to learn more about this versatile product.

So about those recipes… I decided to whip up two of my favorite “carbs”: fruit muffins and drop biscuits!

Oh drop biscuits. You taste so good.

You can purchase almond meal at any of your local health food stores, Whole Foods, Nutrition S’mart or places that sell bulk bin items.

Apple & Date Cinnamon Muffins
2 cups almond meal
2 eggs + 2 egg whites
1 tsp. vanilla extra
8 dates (at room temp), pitted and pureed (you can use a food processor)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners. Add all ingredients, except for dates, into a bowl. Using a mixer (hand mixer or standing mixer), combine all ingredients well. Add dates and mix to combine. Pour tablespoon fulls of batter into the cupcake tin. Bake at 350 for 20-22 minutes, or until toothpick test comes out clean. Enjoy with butter or nut butters!


Cheesy Drop Biscuits
2 1/2 cups of almond meal
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
4 tbsp. melted butter, cooled
1 cup shredded cheese (I used Parmesan)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine all ingredients using a standing or hand mixer. Drop spoonfuls of biscuit dough onto greased (butter) baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until firm and golden brown. Enjoy!


Have you ever baked with almond meal?

Steph ๐Ÿ™‚


Journey not finish line

I’ve come to find that no one has the answers when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. In the end, you truly must do what works for you. We cannot depend on a new diet gimmick, weight loss tricks or the like. And although we like to take the advice of others, sometimes that advice isn’t something that will benefit you and your own journey. Continue reading


Fight like a girl

Before my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, I thought I was an advocate. I wore pink in October, and even participated in a few breast cancer awareness walks. If someone was fundraising, I would donate a few dollars, and even change my profile picture to a pink ribbon on occasion. I didn’t know much about the disease, just that there seemed to be a massive driving force towards bringing awareness, advocacy and all that is pink towards the public eye. Continue reading


Such a pretty face

You may think I’m referencing my students when I say the words “peer pressure”, but believe it or not, peer pressure is not limited to kids these days. We learn about peer pressure early on in our educational careers (mostly through Meology classes- remember those?), but it’s something that we experience throughout our entire lives. Now while I know adult peer pressure comes in many forms, I’m going to focus on the peer pressure that comes to one who is going through the weight loss journey, as it’s the closest to my own experiences. Continue reading


Whole Foods Carrollwood sneak peek!

This is my good friend Anna. I love Anna because over the summer she was hired as the Marketing Director for the brand new Whole Foods that’s opening up in Carollwood next week! Ok, that’s not the ONLY reason why Anna rocks, but as a foodie, I can’t help but be thrilled to know someone with Whole Foods connections. ๐Ÿ˜‰ She also writes and manages an amazing blog called Marry Me Tampa Bay. If you’re getting married (or dreaming about getting married like me), you may want to check it out! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Anna actually invited a few local bloggers to participate in a focus group back in mid-July to talk about some of the ideas we had for involving Whole Foods with the community and picked our brains as far as what we’d like to see happening in the store, and how we could help her promote all that the new store will offer. The thing about Whole Foods is they’re all about grassroots advertising, and bloggers are the PERFECT way to get the word out there! One of the events that Anna invited the community to was a sneak peek of the store before it opened. I jumped at the chance, as we’d get a behind the scenes tour (complete with tastings and freebies!) of the new location. I spent a wonderful evening with Monica, from Sweetbites perusing around the hustle and bustle of the new (still under construction) Whole Foods store! The new store is located at the corner of Northdale Blvd and North Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood. Because of it’s location, it’s right in the middle of a very large community of families and surrounded by schools, a YMCA and other community centers. Anna has already begun partnerships with many local non-profit organizations prior to the grand opening. Even at tonight’s sneak peek, guests were given the opportunity to donate to the local YMCA branch. I happily donated, knowing that the Y does many great things for the community. The first thing I noticed about the location is how fresh and airy it appears. With floor to ceiling windows, well-lit aisles and bright colors, this is an inviting space where shoppers feel like they’re shopping at an outdoor market. Tour groups were leaving every 15 minutes, and Monica and I were lucky enough to be able to go through the tour in the same group. The tour lasted around an hour and a half and took us through all the departments of the store. At each stop, we were greeted by knowledgeable staff who filled us in on everything from the products to the buying process to the community outreach programs that Whole Foods is involved with. I was very impressed with Whole Trade, which is basically their name for “Fair Trade”, which they actively promote. You can read about here. I was also very interested in learning about their Local Producer Loan Program. You can read about here. Every product is consciously placed on their shelves with a purpose in mind. I love that they give back to their local community and have incorporated best practices when choosing products. We learned about their process for how they choose their meats, fish, and produce. All of their fresh meats abide by the 5 Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards. This ensures fair and humane treatment of all the animals providing meat to all of their stores. We were even “introduced” to two of their farmers, who you will be able to meet if you decide to come out to the grand opening! Whole Foods pulled out all the stops for tonight’s visit. We were greeted with goodie bags that were filled to the rim with freebies as we literally “trick or treated” around the store. We were also spoiled with appetizers. Key lime shrimp, chocolate peanut butter brownies, raspberry cookies, coffee, parmigiano reggiano cheese (amazing!), fresh pineapple, spicy sausage, and pumpkin tortellini. I really enjoyed the coffee. It was rich and smooth- so good that no cream or sweetener was necessary. Oh, and get this. In an effort to keep be as green as possible, if you bring in your own reusable mug or coffee cup, they’ll fill you up with their Whole Foods blend for just $1! That is incredible deal considering a cup of drive thru coffee can be up to $4 a cup! I was very impressed with how knowledgeable each department team leader was. I learned so much about identifying organic vs. non-organic items, including efforts that Whole Foods has ma
de to stock their shelves with truly organic whole body products like shampoos and makeup. (We even got free lip balm that I cannot wait to try tomorrow!). I’m really excited about the new hot foods section that will include BBQ smoked in house! Their maple & cola pulled pork gets a thumbs up from their hot foods team leader. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m a big fan of Whole Foods’ hot pizza. The Greek (when they have it) is usually my go-to flavor. Although it wasn’t mentioned, I hope they plan on carrying fresh sushi- another one of my t0-go favorites. And if you’re ever planning on eating in (and taking advantage of those $1 cups of coffee), they have a roomy seating area, both inside and out. And don’t forget to recycle! They really make it a no-brainer (and kid friendly!). Here are a few more highlights from the store:

Aren’t those mini potatoes adorable?

Whole Foods can make even a post-it look delicious!

Obviously Monica had MORE than her fill of fun. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’ll be at the Grand Opening come this weekend. If you’re local to the Tampa Bay area, please stop by! Here’s a sneak peek of some of the events happening: Thursday, Nov. 1 8am Free continental breakfast outside on the patio (with entertainment provided by the Gaither High School Marching Band and Cheerleaders!) 9am Bread breaking ceremony and doors open! *The first 500 shoppers will receive a Whole Foods Market reusable bag filled with goodies at checkout *Vendor samples and cooking demos throughout the store. *Grand opening sales and specials *Live music throughout the day *Giveaways including a chance to win a $500 Healthy Eating Pantry makeover *And 1% of net sales will benefit the Hope Childrenโ€™s Home! Hours are 9am-10pm, 7 days a week Friday, Nov. 2 All events that started at 9am from the previous day will carry over to Friday! *1% of net sales will benefit Meals on Wheels Tampa. 6pm-8pm Healthy Happy Hour on the patio including healthy smoothies, nutritious appetizers and live music. Saturday, Nov. 3 All events that started at 9am from the previous day will carry over to Saturday! *1% of net sales will benefit Quantum Leap Farm 10am Allegro coffee company demonstration at the coffee bar, including a coffee lovers gift basket giveaway! Noon Parmigiano Reggiano wheel cracking and tasting 3pm Cooking with sustainable seafood, including Atlantic Salmon Noon-4pm Kids activities on the patio including how to eat a rainbow, face painting, coloring and a social media photo booth! Sunday, Nov. 4 All events that started at 9am from the previous day will carry over to Sunday! *1% of net sales will benefit Carrollwood Cultural Center 11am Health Starts Here Kalicious Smoothies, including tastings and demos 11am-2pm Kids activities on the patio including crafts. 1pm Whole Meals! Whole Deals! Learn how to make delicious holiday recipes (and get some coupons!) 2pm-4pm Face painting 4pm Sundae Sunday: learn how to make Health Starts Here banana ice cream (including toppings!) 4pm Healthy Holiday Entertaining: demos and tastings for the holiday season Steph ๐Ÿ™‚


Healthy eating on a budget

The #1 question I get from blog readers is

“How do you grocery shop and cook healthy meals on a budget?”

It’s honestly a question I asked myself at the beginning of my own wellness journey. Mostly because I originally fixated on “organic” eating as my only option. Now don’t get me wrong, I try to eat organically, but it’s not always feasible when working with a weekly grocery budget. Organic foods can be more expensive, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find ways to fit in fresh and healthy meal options into your life.

For years I’ve been shopping at my local farmer’s markets, like Parkesdale Farm, for my produce. Today I made a trip out there with Mr. KKM’s mom and Monica. I spent exactly $9.45 and got all of this:
For less than $10 and I got 2 HUGE avocados, 3 red plums, 3 HUGE sweet potatoes, 4 tomatoes, 8 limes, a bunch of cilantro, a Spanish onion and 2 baking potatoes. That, my friends, is what you call a DEAL. If you don’t have a farmer’s market near by, consider joining a co-op! You’ll have fresh produce delivered to your door every month (or even every week in some cases). Look for a co-op in your neighborhood here.

As for everything else, I’ve never been a “loyal” grocery chain shopper. Here in Florida Publix is one of our biggest chain grocers, and although I do love shopping there (it is a pleasure, after all), it’s not always kind to my wallet. I typically do my shopping on Saturday mornings and will browse the ads to see who’s got the best deals. I’m totally ok with store brands, so couponing has never been my priority as I think many times you can save more money by going generic on most items, receiving equal quality and taste. Now, in a moment, I may lose brand-loyal readers, but I want to introduce you to a little store called Aldi.

Ever heard of Trader Joe’s? (oh, I bet I just got a few swoons and oooo’s and ahhh’s). Well Aldi is their discount chain and parent company. (Yes, it’s true!). When Tampa first got an Aldi, I decided to check it out. I had heard about it’s popularity over in Europe, so I figured I would see what all of the trans-Atlantic hype was about.

I have been HOOKED on Aldi ever since. Calling it a “discount” store is like putting it in the same category as Save-a-Lot or Dollar General, and that should be a crime. Aldi is in a different league all on it’s own.

With impeccably clean stores, specialty items and some of the freshest produce around, there is no doubt that Aldi is in the same family as the infamous Trader Joe’s.

I did my grocery shopping there yesterday, and wanted to share with you what I found. If you’re living on a budget (like me), then you should check out Aldi for all of your healthy meal planning needs. Let’s take a look at what I bought:

Let’s crunch some numbers:

1 gallon skim milk $3.19
ground turkey $1.69 x2= $3.38
black beans $0.59 x2=$1.18
pork tenderloin (1lb) $5.99
shredded part skim cheese $2.79
pecan halves (6oz) $3.99
chicken broth $1.49
baby carrots $0.59
parsley flakes $0.99
basil leaves $0.99
steak seasoning $0.99
diced tomatoes $0.59 x2= $1.18
dozen large eggs $1.39
turkey bacon $1.39
brown rice $1.29
tilapia filets $5.99
sweet potato chips $0.99
total= $37.80

Combine that with my farmer’s market buys and you have a grand total of $47.25!
That’s under $50 for tons of staples that can lead to amazing meals!

In addition to the above goodies, you’ll find things like:

Eating healthy doesn’t have to break your piggy bank. Give Aldi a chance and see what you think!

Do you have any favorite low-cost healthy recipes?


Know what you have

**Disclaimer** This post covers sensitive medical and wellness related topics involving breast cancer and preventative reproductive screenings. If you feel uncomfortable discussing or reading about these topics, please skip this post. I won’t be offended because I know you’ll be back! Additionally, I am NOT a medical professional. I am simply a patient giving my opinion on how to be proactive with women’s health issues. Please consult your own physician with any individual medical questions or concerns.

If you’re a regular Orangespoken reader, then you know that I lost my mom to breast cancer back in April of 2012 after a year long fight. Today I had an appointment to meet with my OB/GYN for my yearly well woman checkup; the first since her passing.  My priority were to get my annual screening and to discuss my own breast cancer prevention plan.

I had been dreading this conversation. Mostly because of this ridiculous genetic coding that my family carries that I’ve tried to overcome throughout the years. You see, many members of my family have the “no news is good news” mentality, and would even go so far as to not even visit the doctor for fear of facing the worst. So of course, DNA-related worry is a hard thing to shush, but I knew that with my mom’s passing from triple negative carcinoma (the worst case scenario as far as breast cancers are concerned), that I would now be high risk and would need to take a proactive approach to my own prevention, even if it means having a scary and uncomfortable conversation with my OB/GYN.

I’m 33 years old, and have been going to this particular doctor since around the age of 20. Before my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had many reproductive issues and eventually had to endure a full hysterectomy while I was young. So I have been exposed to the importance of reproductive health for a while now, and have never missed my yearly exam. However, I find it shocking when I hear about other women, my age (and sometimes older!) who have never had a pap smear or breast exam. I can even recall conversations with girlfriends who don’t regularly do self breast exams. I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing the ins and outs your body, so that when and if changes occur, they’re noticeable. Listen, whatever the reason, get over it, because there’s nothing more important than your health. If there’s anything positive that came out of my mother’s passing, it’s that realization.

I saw my mother suffer through chemotherapy and its side effects, radiation, drains, losing the ability to walk, speak, and eat on her own. There is no preventative screening or checkup that will ever come close to the pain she felt, and anytime I’m scared to make that appointment, I think of her. If you haven’t built a relationship with a doctor or OB/GYN, put that on your priority list asap.

Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty of these two life-saving checkups. First, the pap-smear, also known as a “well woman exam“. Most primary care physicians will do this exam (which encompasses more than just the pap-smear test), but, depending on your insurance, you can also make an appointment with a OB/GYN outside of your regular doctor’s visits (get with your insurance carrier for details). A regular well woman exam visit only takes 20 minutes at the most, and typically starts off with the removal of all clothes and undergarments (don’t worry, you’ll get a robe), vitals, then a breast exam (which we’ll get back to in a second), then the actual pap smear and vaginal (internal & external) exam. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t exactly a recreational experience, but like I said before, 20 minutes of mild discomfort is worth the information you’ll get about your body from it. If you’re completely new to the pap smear experience, here are some tools you’ll see in the exam room.

Tools used to collect a sample during the pap smear.

Posters that show the inner workings of the woman’s reproductive system and pregnancy.

A light to help the doctor see during the vaginal exam and pap smear.

Stirrups to place your feet on during the vaginal exam and pap smear.

The exam typically starts with the pap smear. A speculum will be inserted into the vagina to open it so that the tissue sample can be gathered using the tools seen on the counter above (long q-tip like tools). The pap smear literally takes under a minute from start to finish if you stay calm and listen to the doctor’s instructions. There is some mild discomfort and a tiny tinge of a temporary pinching feeling (for about 2-3 seconds), then the speculum is removed and the pap smear is over. It really is that simple! Tissue samples will be sent to a lab and if the results come back as abnormal, your doctor will contact you to discuss next steps. Once the pap smear is over, the doctor will examine the inside and outside of the vagina, and other reproductive parts using inserted fingers and pressure applied to the lower stomach area. This exam is painless (unless there is a problem, OR you haven’t emptied your bladder). If after reading this you still have anxiety about this part of the exam, and have put off making your appointment, talk to your doctor about your concerns ahead of time and see what they suggest to help make the situation more comfortable. Remember, it’s a simple and potentially life saving exam that all women should be having annually (or sometimes even bi-annually, at Dr.’s orders).

Now let’s revisit the breast exam. First let me say that if you’re not doing monthly self exams, start now. Get to know the way your breasts feel because believe it or not, you WILL feel bumpy areas, stretch mark textures and the like. Get to know what’s normal for your breasts that way when something changes, you’ll notice it. Here’s a great website that shows you how to do an accurate self breast check up, including the right time of the month to do them and changes to look for. If you’re under the age of 40, your doctor will perform a thorough breast exam that is identical to the one you should be doing at home, so take notice to what they’re doing and ask questions if you don’t understand or want clarification. Nobody should be silent during any medical exam. Ask questions, converse, and become familiar with these procedures so that you’re more educated on both your body and prevention. If you’re over 40, your breast exam will most likely be a mammogram. If you’re younger than 40 and are high risk (like your mother had breast cancer) they may have you do a mammogram earlier than 40 (which may or may not be covered by insurance, so do your homework). Early detection is key, and I plan on being as proactive as possible now that I’m in a high risk situation.

Was my visit a success? Yes. I have an amazing OB/GYN who took the time to listen to my concerns, and show me proper self breast exam tips today. As she probed about my mother’s illness, I got emotional and fortunately she understood my own anxieties about my future. She also spoke to me about options like sonograms and genetic testing (BRCA-see link below) as other ways to maintain and monitor my breast health. She happens to work specifically with the BRCA testing and gave me her cell phone number if and when I was ready to discuss this option. There really are great doctors still left in the world!

Cancer is a killer. It took my mom from me, as well as grandparents, cousins and friends. The only way we can fight this beast is by being as proactive as possible with our own health. Listen to your bodies. Get checked. Don’t procrastinate. Right now you have the control, not the disease. So do what needs to be done.
Need more information? Check out these resources:

The Importance of a Yearly Pap Smear
Pap and HPV Testing
Early Detection of Breast Cancer
Brac Testing Information

Please share your thoughts, tips and stories. Let’s encourage and inspire each other to live our best lives possible.
Steph <3