WSU students take a hands-on approach to stop breast cancer

BY CHAD SOKOL | Evergreen reporter

The women of Kappa Delta sorority learned how to “check their boobies” yesterday evening as a group of breast cancer awareness advocates gave its sixth presentation to WSU students.

Check Your Boobies is a nonprofit outreach program that was founded about 10 years ago on Mercer Island, when Heike Malakoff, a survivor of the disease, saw a need for education among countless fundraising groups. The group has been on campus for the last week giving presentations on how to perform self-examinations.

“Her biggest goal was that it’s fun,” said Kim Schaaf, the breast health educator who led the presentation at Kappa Delta. “I feel like, if women can laugh about something, they can learn about it.”

The presentation started with a game of charades, as eight volunteers from the packed living-room audience stood up to illustrate factors that often lead to breast cancer, like smoking and alcohol.

“Breast cancer doesn’t care what size you are, what color you are – it doesn’t matter,” Schaaf said.

Schaaf explained that each of those factors increases circulation of estrogen and other hormones, and that many forms of cancer are hormone-fed. She noted that most statistics suggest breast cancer is most common among women who are 55 or older or have undergone menopause.

“(Breast cancer) for women under 25 is not a huge risk,” she said, speaking to the sorority. “But you’re very likely to get a very aggressive form of breast cancer.”

Later, she added, “Don’t let your health care provider tell you you’re too young.”

The room full of women – as well as a few men – were taught methods of detecting the deadly disease, which affects both genders.

“I don’t do a breast exam … because that sounds like a test,” Schaaf said. “I prefer to call it a breast massage. Doesn’t that sound nicer? You are not on a search-and-destroy mission.”

In order to teach the crowd how to feel around for tumors, Schaaf passed out two rubber breasts, each with a hard lump at its core. The fakes demonstrated how much pressure one must exert to feel a tumor underneath layers of breast tissue.

Schaaf said it’s important that women search for tumors in three ways: standing up, lying down and while looking in a mirror. Things to look for, she said, include changes in the appearance of one’s skin, such as dimpling.

“Most people have one breast larger than the other,” she said. “So, if one suddenly catches up to the other, you might want to check it out.”

Brianne Laird, the WSU ambassador for Check Your Boobies, took her internship with the program while her 46-year-old mother battled breast cancer.

“Tragically, six months ago after a battle with breast cancer, my mom passed away,” Laird said. “I was a freshman in college when I heard of her diagnosis.”

Laird, a WSU junior and member of Delta Gamma sorority, said she chose “to do something positive instead of moping around.”

“I wanted to tell girls that if you find it sooner, the better,” she said.

Another woman who spoke at Kappa Delta was 37-year-old Jamaica Baldwin, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer after she discovered a lump at her home in New York.

“I was very fortunate that I thought to check in the shower that morning,” Baldwin said. “Who knows what would have happened if I had waited a month?”

Baldwin, on her first campus visit with Check Your Boobies, underwent five months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation, and now must take medication for about five years – what she called “typical treatment.”

Check Your Boobies will give its last presentation at 6 this evening at the Delta Gamma sorority house on Linden Street. More information about the program can be found at