Self Aid and Buddy Care

A lesson I learned from the U.S. Air Force.


The U.S. Air Force spent thousands of dollars teaching me how to survive life threatening conditions by identifying the threat, deciding on a course of action to counter the threat, and executing without delay. Every year that I was in uniform, I spent several days with instructors going over life saving techniques. Granted, the conditions we faced in the military are most likely related to wounds or injuries. In those cases, we practiced applying tourniquets, dressings, bandages, and splints on ourselves and our buddy. We also learned how to perform a self-exam to identify rashes, lumps, bumps, and bruising. We practiced on ourselves and on our buddy. Although, treatment by emergency medical staff is the preferred option, sometimes it is not possible and Self Aid Buddy Care is the only way we would survive.

The primary care provider becomes a central figure in the life of BRCA positive people. However, we are the one that needs to identify threats and take immediate action. It’s imperative we realize that we are the most important factor to wellness. We are on the front line. We need to apply SABC to our daily lifestyle. This means we learn about our body and our buddy’s body and we perform self-exams, paying attention to changes. Small changes in most people can be safely attributed to the aging process or environmental changes but BRCA positive people need to ensure those small changes are not the beginning of something life threatening.

In the middle of August, in 2001, I noticed a brown spot on my left forearm. I could have written it off as an ‘age’ spot, but as a SABC trained person, I knew I had to schedule an appointment with my PCP because I was suspicious of the sudden appearance. A biopsy was taken and 24 hours later I got the call from my doctor. It was a type of skin cancer called Basal cell carcinoma (BCC). A surgeon removed a quarter sized chunk of skin from my forearm on September 10, 2001.

In January 2018, I found a lump in my left breast during a self-exam. It felt like a blood vessel laying just under the skin. My SABC training kicked in, I made an appointment with my PCP and she felt it as well. She ordered X-Rays, an Ultrasound, and sent me to see my Oncologist. The tests confirmed the growth was benign. However, it was the beginning of something very sinister for a BRCA positive male, Gynecomastia. By April of 2018 the lump had grown to the size of a hockey puck on each breast. Over an 18-month period, more lumps were discovered which called for more X-Rays, more ultrasounds, a biopsy, and many more doctor appointments. My oncologist and I agreed that a cancer avoidance bilateral mastectomy was the only way to remove the threat. You can read about the surgery here.

Please join me in starting a movement called “Touch ‘em Tuesday” or perhaps “Feel ‘em up Friday”.

Here’s how:

  1. Identify your buddy.

  2. You and your buddy learn how to do a proper self-exam, from a trained medical professional, such as your PCP or a nurse.

  3. Pinky swear to meet on a specific day of the week. Put it in your calendar to make it official!

  4. Perform a self-exam and buddy check.

  5. If a threat is detected, seek appropriate medical care.