Only while training to become a medical tactile examiner did 27-year-old Jana Humble stop regarding her visual impairment as some kind of disability. By detecting breast tissue abnormalities, she now helps discover breast cancer at an earlier stage.
Medical Tactile Examiner
I was born with a visual impairment and my eyesight has deteriorated significantly over the years. I initially trained as a management assistant in office communication but went years without finding a job, despite submitting over a thousand applications. As far as I was concerned, though, giving up was never an option.
I came across Discovering Hands at an exhibition of aids for the blind and visually impaired. The company trains women who are blind or have a severe visual impairment as medical tactile examiners (MTEs).
I knew at once I would really enjoy this occupation. Even as a child, the idea of becoming a doctor or nurse very much appealed to me, but my visual impairment made that impossible.
I can feel the tiniest changes in breast tissue – even when they are no more than around five millimeters in size.
When people are blind or have a severe visual impairment, their other senses become heightened. My highly developed and well-trained sense of touch enables me to work as an MTE, detecting breast cancer in its early stages. I can feel the tiniest changes in breast tissue – even when they are no more than around five millimeters in size. I do so using the Discovering Hands procedure to systematically examine the breast – centimeter by centimeter and at three different depths. The pain-free examination takes around 45 to 60 minutes and is available to women of all ages – from 18 to 80.
After asking the patient about her medical history, I examine her lymph nodes at various points. I then stick five strips onto her torso, dividing the breast into a number of zones and providing a system of coordinates. The strips have various markings on them for orientation and subsequent documentation purposes. I systematically examine the breast tissue while the patient lies on her back and side.
As an MTE, I’m not allowed to make a diagnosis. MTEs can’t “feel cancer” – they simply detect abnormalities in the breast tissue. The doctor and I work together as a team, but the doctor alone decides about any further measures. An examination by an MTE is intended to complement rather than replace a scan.
Working as an MTE is a wonderful profession. It brings me into contact with so many different people. The patients trust my sense of touch. Naturally, it’s also a very emotional occupation. After all, I first have to put myself in my patients’ shoes, because many of them come to me with a certain amount of anxiety. I dispel their fears – and that makes me feel good.
Being an MTE requires a sense of responsibility and offers a great deal of variety. No two days are the same. It also plays a big part in integrating the visually impaired into society, because people often shy away and have reservations about approaching us.
As an MTE, I can prove I’m just like any other person. My disability means I can do something that people with healthy eyes can’t. If I use my fingertips correctly, I can save lives – and that ability makes me proud. The sooner breast cancer is detected, the better the chances of recovery. While the tumor is still very small and has yet to spread, the disease is not life-threatening.
I’m passionate about being an MTE and look forward to meeting my patients every day. I’m so glad my choice of career has enabled me to follow my dreams.