Most women know they should do breast self-exams regularly.
The problem is, many women don’t actually know the right way to perform a self-exam. As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month kicks off this week, one local organization is doing something to change that, in the form of what has been calling “Tabletop Tatas”
“We want to teach women this life-saving skill,” said Brenda Edwards, executive director for the Kimberley Chance Atkins Foundation. “When women perform monthly self-exams, at the same time each month, they can detect any change in their breast tissue and take steps to address that.”
That’s why, this month, the Kimberley Chance Atkins Foundation will begin offering hands-on “lunch and learn” self-exam workshops at small businesses throughout both Rockdale and Newton counties.
The foundation was created in memory of Kim Atkins, a Rockdale wife, mother and teacher who lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 32. Its mission is early detection and education about breast cancer.
“To take away the stigma and put self-exams in layman’s terms, we’ve worked with Dr. Rick Stiles, one of our board members, to develop a simple script for the workshops,” said Edwards. “Two complete sets of life-like breast models let women actually practice hands-on exam techniques in a comfortable environment.
“With the models, women can be less self-conscious and focus more on the learning experience.”
The models allow women to perform an exam on a normal breast, then follow that up with an exam on a breast that has lumps which mimic cancerous tumors. One set of models is even fashioned into an apron that women can wear to get a better sense of the techniques they should use in an actual self-exam.
“We wanted to create something that women could comfortably work with and remove some of the embarrassment they might feel with addressing a fairly personal issue in public,” said Edwards. “We wanted women to know that there’s nothing scary or magical about self-exams.”
Already, foundation volunteers are being trained to conduct workshops at local businesses, with groups of 15 to 20 women.
The hands-on part of each “lunch-and-learn” session lasts only about 15 minutes, but the benefits of the training can be life-changing for workshop participants.
While experts are often divided on the value of breast self-exams versus mammograms, there’s no denying self-exams can potentially save lives.
In fact, according to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump.
“Mammograms are still our most important tool in diagnosing breast cancers,” said Edwards, “but not all women have access, because they have no insurance or are underinsured. The Kim Atkins Foundation tries to help these women have access to mammograms, but we also wanted to do something that’s more accessible to these women — and to all women, for that matter.”
The foundation premiered the breast models at its recent Tennis Tournament fundraiser.
Volunteers have also been practicing in preparation for instruction at the Rockdale Career Academy, where they will be teaching self-exam techniques to health care classes.
“We want local businesses to contact us about doing a workshop,” said Edwards. “This is a very important way that we can help our community, by encouraging women to take better care of themselves.”
For more information about the Kimberley Chance Atkins Foundation and the self-exam workshops, visit the foundation’s website at www.kimatkins.net. Click on “Contact Us,” then click on “Executive Director: Brenda Edwards” to send an email.