Here’s why it pays to be naughty — sometimes!

Whilst breast cancer almost entirely occurs in women, men can develop breast cancer too.

What you need to know:

  • Woman’s breast cancer was discovered due to her husband’s ‘naughty’ hand.
  • Breast cancer cells usually form a tumour that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump.

A few years ago, while I was flying from Dublin to London, I saw a catchy headline in a British newspaper that I read: “How playful squeeze by a husband saved his wife’s life.” 

Under the caption was the news item which ran as follows: “A husband saved his wife’s life when he playfully touched her breast and felt a hard lump. The wife was diagnosed with cancer within a week. She had the growth removed soon after and being diagnosed early she was pronounced cured.”

The wife’s comment, also mentioned in the newspaper, was equally interesting: “If my husband hadn’t given me that squeeze, it might have been too late as the cancer could have spread farther.”

As a surgeon who has devoted a significant part of his professional life to the female breast, I could see in this true story a salutary message for my readers and patients. And I saw a useful message to promote the breast cancer awareness campaign — in which I was heavily involved. It would sound something like this: please, please examine your breasts regularly. If you wish to delegate this duty to someone else, that is entirely up to you. The important thing is the examination of your breasts. As to who carries it out is immaterial — surgically speaking!

As I sipped my Irish Jameson whisky and munched on the news item, I was taken a few years back and was reminded of one of my patients who went one stage further than the lady in the newspaper. 

I was flying to a Surgeon’s Conference in Bangkok when a bustling old lady with a round unwrinkled cherubic face and short curly coppery grey hair reached out. 

“Doctor, you may not remember me but you took out my gall bladder 20 years ago. Of course I was much younger and glamorous then. Perhaps showing you my scar will remind you.”

She started to unbutton her blouse quickly. Flushed with embarrassment, I said I believed her — much to the amusement of the passengers and crew near us. Little did I know I would encounter Mrs Jenkins years later.

Large lump in breast

This triggered the memory of an incident when the shoe had been on the other foot. Marie and I were staying in our usual haunt on the North Coast in Mombasa for Easter. One evening as we took our daily walk on the beach, I was confronted by a buxom lady wearing a skimpy bikini. 

“Doctor, do you remember me?” she asked, stretching her hand out to shake mine. I was trying to remember who she was and how to respond to this overt sudden challenge appropriately.

I was a bit anxious as Marie was watching this encounter with more than a passing interest. Looking at my totally blank face, and presumably to give me a clue, the lady added: “Five years ago, you removed a very large lump from my breast and told me you had done so through a tiny keyhole incision which would leave me with a scar almost invisible.” 

Relieved to know she had no incriminating evidence against me, and elated by her complimentary remark, I replied, “Now madam, if you had shown me the scar first, I would definitely have recognised you!”

A few years later I bumped into Mrs Jenkins walking around Muthaiga on the arm of a handsome elderly gentleman. 

“Hello again, doctor. How wonderful it is to see you again!” 

She indicated to the gentleman that she wanted a private chat with me. She said that she had met the gentleman a few weeks early and had come to spend the weekend with him. 

Cancer of the cervix

“Doctor, this weekend is the first time I slept with my new friend and I noticed afterwards slight bleeding”. 

I was caught off guard and took a little time to articulate a suitable response. 

“It could be something simple like an infection, but the bleeding could also portend a more sinister condition like a growth in the neck of the womb.” 

I advised her to consult a gynaecologist urgently. A week later, Mrs Jenkins rang me. 

“The bleeding persisted. So, I consulted the gynaecologist that you recommended to me and he found a very early cancer of the cervix. He had to remove my womb”. 

Speaking with my colleague later, he said it was one of the earliest he had seen and that Mrs Jenkins could now consider herself cured.

A month later, Mrs Jenkins brought me a gift — a beautiful Thai silk tie. 

“Thank you for your very quick referral.” 

Examine yourself

Then, with a sinful smile, she added, “Sometimes being naughty helps. If I had not been naughty that weekend, my cervical cancer would have gone unnoticed and it would have spread rapidly. Because it was discovered early, now I am cured.” 

Finally, I’d like to offer you some guidance and share a few facts with you all.

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast when cells begin to multiply so quickly that it soon grows out of control. 

Breast cancer cells usually form a tumour that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. Whilst breast cancer almost entirely occurs in women, men can develop breast cancer too.

It’s important to understand and remember that most breast lumps are benign and not cancerous (malignant). 

Non-cancerous breast tumours are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast. They are not life-threatening. However, we know that certain types of benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer.

Any breast lump or change in the breast shape needs to be checked by a healthcare professional as soon as possible to determine if it is benign or malignant (cancer), and if benign how it may affect any future cancer risk.

It only takes a few minutes to examine yourself. Those few minutes could save your life!


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