One woman’s mission to get us ALL to #VetYourBreasts
Anna Beber wants her fellow vet practice members to check themselves for regularly. At the age of just 33, a sticker on the wall at her local gym prompted the fit, low-risk veterinary surgeon to check herself there and then… and she discovered a lump.
Now Anna, who works in Bristol as a cardiology clinician, is behind a campaign to have a poster for breast self-exams displayed in every UK veterinary practice. “Even though I had intermittently checked myself before, I hadn’t really thought about this as something that could happen to me, particularly as a younger woman. And then I saw this sticker on the gym wall, checked myself right then and there, and that’s when I detected a lump.”
“It was one of those typical Fridays in the lead up to Christmas with a 4pm emergency and a late discharge. I just managed to get to the pool for a swim before it closed.
That’s when I saw a breast cancer awareness poster in the changing room (now identified as the wonderful work of Helen Addis & Check and Change Campaign). I hadn’t checked my breasts for a while and this reminded me to do it, when felt a lump in my left boob. I went to the doctor to get it checked, but wasn’t expecting anything serious- I was young, healthy with no history of breast cancer in my family. Unfortunately, it was serious and 2 months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33 and life turned upside-down.
I keep thinking about what might have happened had I not felt the lump that day and how many people wouldn’t remember or even think to check themselves. It is possible that those few minutes checking and that poster may have saved my life.
So that’s where the idea of a Vet Your Breasts sticker came from.”
Breast cancer statistics
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. In 2017, around 54,700 women and around 390 men were diagnosed in the UK. A staggering 1 in 7 women in the UK develop breast cancer during their lifetime. It is more common in older women and risk can be affected by age, family history and lifestyle factors, such as obesity and smoking.
Early detection saves lives
Anna’s own experience was the driving force to encourage others to check themselves regularly; “I couldn’t let go of the thought of how many people out there haven’t seen a poster like I did and who wouldn’t think to check themselves,” she said. “With breast cancer, early detection is so important. It gives you a chance to have more successful treatment.” It could literally save your life.
There have been good nationwide breast-cancer awareness drives, including the #ChangeAndCheck campaign. However, an effort specifically targeting vet teams is especially important because we tend to spend so much time caring for others, whether it be animals or their owners. “We need a reminder to think about ourselves a bit more,” Anna said. “In this industry, a campaign like this could actually work because we do care a lot about each other,” she explained. “We are all very close, and quite often you feel like you’re in a big family.”
The VetYourBreasts Campaign
So far, VetYourBreasts has printed 1,000 stickers, helped artistically by illustrator Katherine Kannon. Donations have been collected via GoFundMe since June 2020. The campaign ramped up in October to coincide with national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with a poignant video featuring members of practices of various ages and gender affected.
Each poster and sticker is illustrated with eight signs of breast cancer, including pain, discharge from the nipple, dimpling, and/or swollen lymph nodes in the armpit. Practices either can order a sticker or download a poster from the Vet Your Breasts website. Stickers have even made it as far as Canada, New Zealand and Puerto Rico.
Creating a positive health culture for women
As someone who was brought up in a prudish family, I still feel a bit uncomfortable palpating myself. The culture of ignore and it’ll never happen / go away. But as a mum to young girls, I now understand my responsibility to teach them to honour their bodies in this day and age of growing body dysmorphia. Not just to feel comfortable in their own skin, but also to ensure they can look after their own health. The more we normalise this for ourselves and each other – and the next generation – the more lives will be saved through earlier interventions.
Join the discussion as we talk to Anna on Veterinary Woman facebook Live 8pm Wednesday 21st October.
Find out more about the campaign and linked resources at the Vet Your Breasts website.
Read more about the other health month topics and events here.