Breasts – Check Them Out

“Early detection and a healthy lifestyle are the only things that we know for sure right now” about preventing breast cancer, announced Sima Spector, chair of the Hadassah Check It Out program in Sacramento, California.

Spector has an unlikely target audience: teenage girls. In a program developed by Hadassah to help teens develop a sense of personal wellness, the breast cancer survivor program is key. The umbrella program, Your Body Is a Beautiful Responsibility, includes Check It Out, usually presented to juniors and seniors in high school, and The New Me.

Every discussion is staffed by a volunteer speaker from Hadassah, along with a breast cancer survivor, and at least one registered nurse. The idea goes beyond breast cancer prevention, the program’s organizers say. The survivors provide a powerful incentive for girls to take care of themselves.

Jennifer, a Sacramento student who attended Check It Out, said the program promoted “a kind of honesty and candor that did not exist between teens and adults before.” At Spector’s first assembly, a survivor who had had a mastectomy took out her false breast and passed it around. After that, Spector knew they were on the right track.

Willeke Sandler, a high school senior from Maryland, felt that the presence of a survivor made the discussion more meaningful. “We’ve heard about it, but here was someone who lived through it, and was telling us about it so we wouldn’t have to. Some people were a little surprised by how open she was [about her breasts], but then they were open to it, and we had some good discussions.”

The New Me is the program’s other half, focusing on self-esteem. The bold slogan on one pamphlet reads: “Look Beyond the Mirror to Find the Real You!” and includes suggestions on how girls can feel better about themselves.

While The New Me probably carries the more important message for teenage girls, it is not having anywhere near the impact of the breast-cancer program. The pamphlet is handed out at the end of every Check It Out session, but it is not officially discussed by the Hadassah team. And without guidance, girls are about as likely to discuss self-esteem openly as they are to do a breast self-exam. Frankly, said Sandler, “I don’t even remember The New Me.”