It was a dark summer night as I stood at the lake preparing for my “mikveh” immersion. It is complicated to immerse when in summer camp; having to make my way to the lake with a friend who will witness my immersion and ensure my safety, but there is also something exciting about immersing in the fresh waters. Checking my body (iyun) before immersion takes on a whole new perspective when there are no lights and mirrors. It’s a challenging but exciting way of keeping hilkhot Taharat Hamishpacha.
That night, in accordance with halakha, I used my hands in a whole new way– really feeling every inch of my body to make sure that the examination would fully adhere to the halakha for immersion.
That’s when I felt it.
A small lump.
One that I didn’t remember being there the last time I had checked my breasts on a mikveh night.
I got anxious.
I was disappointed when I remembered that my doctor had told me I was too young for a mammogram at age 40. And now 3 months later I was feeling this suspicious lump?
I continued my thorough hand-led bodily check and made my way into the cool natural waters. I immersed and went back to my bunk with a heavy heart. It wasn’t the ideal mikveh night that I had discussed with hundreds of kallot over my years of teaching, but it was one that I don’t regret for a moment.
The lump that I found that night was breast cancer. I thank God that it was small and removable. While it’s hard to say with certainty that I wouldn’t have found it otherwise, I believe that my monthly iyun was one of Hashem’s ways of protecting me.
There are debates as to whether women should check for breast cancer when they are preparing for the mikveh. My story is one of those that proves to me how consciously feeling/checking over one’s breasts during “iyun” can save lives. Might I have found it without iyun — yes, but it’s likely that it would have been months later and more dangerous. While I could have found another way to routinely check my breasts, it’s unlikely that I would have. Though I will never immerse in that lake without negative flashbacks, I bless my dark night at the lake and thank God that I was able to inspect my body to keep it healthy.
With that in mind, I am proud to play a role in presenting the most common challenges and questions that arise around breast cancer treatment and mikveh, so that mikveh attendants and women immersing will be educated and sensitized.