Skip to Main Content
Emily May pictured at the Yes, Mamm! 5K

Breast Self-Exam ‘Basically Saved My Life’

October 21, 2022 Posted in: Patients & Providers , Cancer Care , Women's Care  2 minute read time


Emily May has been steadfast in her monthly self-examinations since she was 27 years old. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and died in 2005 at age 41. Emily, who works as a supervisor of oncology support services at CHI Saint Joseph Health – Cancer Care Center, also had begun doing the high risk screening mammography and MRIs.

Her scan last August was clear, as was her follow-up in November.

But earlier this year, Emily, 35, who was nine months pregnant at the time, discovered a lump in her left breast. 

“It just didn’t sit right with me,” she said.

So she went into the cancer care center for a mammogram ultrasound. A biopsy followed shortly afterward.

The diagnosis on May 31 was not good – triple negative cancer – but the response and treatment were quick.

Emily's Treatment Plan

Emily gave birth to her son, Bennett, on June 7. She had a treatment port placed on June 17 and began what would be 16 chemotherapy treatments on June 21, just three weeks after diagnosis.

“You hear some places that it takes time to get treatment started,” she said. “We just don’t do that here.”

That’s important, since, Emily says, “the hardest part was waiting from that initial ‘you have cancer’ conversation to a game plan. You have all these things floating through your mind.”

Her baby’s birth was imminent, but Emily sometimes forgot that she was having a baby in that brief timeframe – almost a week – that the “game plan” was being developed.

“You start thinking, ‘what do I need to do to survive?’” she said. “What do I need to do to make sure my family is taken care of.” In addition to Bennett, Emily and her husband Zack have another son, Harrison, 3.

Emily May with her family
Emily May and Dr. Croley at Yes, Mamm! 5K

Support System

Her support systems at both work and home have been a godsend. Twelve treatments in, she said the biggest side effect has been the fatigue from the treatments. She has had useage of the cold cap therapy made possible through the Saint Joseph Hospital Foundation and still has a full head of hair.

With her mother’s cancer, Emily and several female family members underwent genetic counseling. Her sister, aunts and cousin all tested positive for the BRCA gene, which may increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Emily did not test positive for the gene, though she was positive for another genetic mutation that causes breast cancer.

That knowledge is power, but Emily credits her persistent habit of self-exams with finding the cancer early.

“If I had just relied on imaging, I wouldn’t have caught it for a while,” she said. “Check your breast. Get used to what is normal for you. If you feel any difference, no matter what, big or small, get it checked out. I could have dismissed what was going on with me as part of my pregnancy.”

“One simple screening can save your life, and it doesn’t take that long to do,” she said. “Self-exams basically saved my life.”

How to do a Self-Exam

  • Begin with a visual inspection; stand in front of a mirror to check for any changes. Start with your arms at your side then raise your arms and check for any change in shape, swelling, dimpling in the skin or changes in the nipple. Be sure to check both breasts.
  • While standing, use the pads of three middle fingers on opposite hand to do manual inspection of each breast. Be sure to press on every part of your breast using light, then medium, then firm pressure. Feel for any lumps or changes. Also check the tissue under your arms.
  • Also conduct an exam of each breast while laying down, using the same technique as in the previous step.


Learn more about breast health and self-breast exams

Recent Articles

Celebrating Our People – Meet Amber

MAR 12, 2024

Saint Joseph London nursing manager Amber Cheek, BSN, RN strives for innovation and improving the experience patients and their caregivers have.

Read More Additional information about Celebrating Our People – Meet Amber

Colon Cancer on the Rise Among Young Adults: 3 Factors that Increase Your Risk

MAR 05, 2024

Once considered a disease of older adults, colon cancer is now becoming more common in people under 50. Read on to understand the three most common risk factors you can change or modify to help lower your colon cancer risk.

Read More Additional information about 3 Factors that Increase Your Risk for Colon Cancer

Celebrating Our People – Meet Crystal

FEB 01, 2024

CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group practice manager Crystal Thomas is focused on her work family and serving the Winchester community through outreach and servant leadership.

Read More Additional information about Celebrating Our People – Meet Crystal

Subscribe for Updates

Fill out the form below to receive monthly health news and information to your inbox.

View the Latest Print Edition

Spirit of Health magazine's print edition is distributed quarterly and focuses on topics related to our CHI Saint Joseph Health purpose and values.