Four Personal Reasons for Hating Breast Cancer

  image All across the U.S. we have been observing October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Many of us are have been wearing pink t-shirts embracing the message. Even NFL players championed the cause with hot pink sneakers. Yet tomorrow as November begins, we will be putting all our pink away. But breast cancer doesn’t just happen in October. It strikes down women and occasionally men, all year long.

For me, fighting breast cancer is personal, but not for the reasons you might think. By profession, I am a freelance journalist. Therefore, when I first found a lump in December of 2007, my mind started racing with breast cancer statistics that I had often reported. Terrified, that it was my turn to become part of them. 

For example, according to the National Cancer Institute one out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at sometime in their lives. In 2013 alone, this organization estimates that 232, 340 women will be diagnosed, while the American Cancer Society reports that about 2, 240 men will also receive this diagnosis.

Thankfully, the reporter in me knew what to do when I found the suspicious lump, because breast cancer is estimated to be as high as 98 percent survivable if detected in the earliest stages according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Immediately, I called my gynecologist and scheduled an appointment explaining the lump’s discovery.

​This predominantly killer-of-women had already become a personal enemy, because over 20 years ago, it took a dear friend’s life. Becky valiantly fought breast cancer for almost a decade, but by the time she reached her mid-thirties she could fight no longer. She was a woman of great faith, a pastor’s wife, filled with dreams for the future. So no one ever expected that breast cancer would happen to her.

Today, her chance for survival would be greater due to positive healthcare advances. image

To honor Becky’s memory, every October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I interviewed  breast cancer survivors. My hope was to encourage women over forty to have a mammogram yearly. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam every 3 years and possible self-exams per American Cancer Society recommendations as well. Women at risk should follow more stringent guidelines.  

My own ambiguous ultrasound six years ago resulted in the need for a biopsy, being told the lump was highly suspicious. I thought about surgery, and about losing my long blonde hair. I looked at wigs and even tried to make my husband Larry promise that if I needed chemotherapy, he would shave his head like former NFL quarterback Brett Favre had done for his wife, Deanna.

It is estimated that about 1.6 million breast biopsies are performed in the U.S. annually with about 80 percent being benign (non-cancerous). These are hopeful statistics, but I did not know them until afterwards. That is after I was sitting on the edge of my chair in the consulting room waiting to hear the biopsy’s results. My husband held my hand tightly as the nurse smiled and shared the good news that I was among the 80 percent cancer-free.

Momentarily, I was elated, but being a journalist I couldn’t help but think about statistics again. Survivor’s guilt reminded me that soon, another woman would be sitting in thatvery same chair hearing that her biopsy revealed she had cancer.

Like my young friend Monica, who is my third reason for hating breast cancer. We used to lie on our mats next to each other during Pilates class and giggle like school girls. Monica was smart. She was a teacher, and she was only 29 when this dreaded disease took her life in 2011.

Then last October this hater-of-females caused my 41-year-old friend Kimberly to head for Heaven’s shores long before what seemed her time. I was there as a bridesmaid when she married, and present at the birth of her first baby. It was only right that I held her hand just hours before she breathed her last Earthly breath leaving behind three children and a grieving husband.

Losing three precious friends to breast cancer, and having had a close brush myself continues to fuel my passion for making sure that other females will have the opportunity to have the preventative tools and knowledge to battle this formidable foe, which takes the lives of 40,000 U.S. women each year. 


A Lesson from Morrie: Always live like you’re dying

Last fall, I met my writing idol, Mitch Albom. The famous journalist was the keynote speaker for a Cancer Awareness Symposium held near Dayton, Ohio. Like hundreds of other mostly Ohio fans, Albom signed my copy of his book, The Time Keeper. Then he let my husband snap our photo together, which I promptly posted to Facebook.

It’s increasingly difficult not to see the literary genius of this Detroit Free Press columnist. Albom’s book writing genre was originally sports-related, although several have dealt with spiritual issues. They include “Have a Little Faith” published in 2009, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” (September 2003) and 1997s “Tuesdays with Morrie.”  All of which were made into movies.

Mitch Albom, best-selling author with Christina Ryan Claypool, blogger

Mitch Albom, best-selling author with Christina Ryan Claypool, blogger

“Tuesdays with Morrie” continues to sustain popularity probably because it addresses one of the most challenging issues that individuals must face; human mortality. It wasn’t predicted to be a bestseller, but years and millions of copies later and counting, readers have voiced their opinion.

In the book, Mitch Albom and Morrie Schwartz explore the reality of death and the lessons learned in life. For fourteen consecutive Tuesdays, Mitch interviewed an elderly Schwartz; his former college professor who was dying from (ALS) Lou Gehrig’s disease. Albom quotes Morrie as saying people don’t talk about death, because “no one really believes they are going to die.” Admittedly, death can come as a shock when it occurs in our inner circle, because it isn’t supposed to happen to us or to the people we love. Or when we hear of another family’s tragic loss we sometimes feel guilty, because we are grateful that it happened to someone else. So, we hug our spouses and kids a little tighter, hoping to stave off this inevitable grim reaper

It was almost a decade ago, when the question of death began to preoccupy my own thoughts. At the time, I was waiting for the results of a biopsy for a relative who I love more than my life. During those long days of waiting, I tried desperately to busy myself with distracting activities, so I opted for a little “Retail Therapy.” While spending time shopping, I first heard the now classic country tune, “Live Like You Were Dying” being sung by Tim McGraw.

Don’t stone me, but I’m not a big country fan. Yet the lyrics stopped me in my tracks. The song is about a man in his early forties whose medical tests reveal that his time on this Earth will be short. When asked what he did when he got the news, the verse says, “I went sky diving, I went Rocky mountain climbing…And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying…And I finally read the Good Book and I took a good long hard look at what I’d do if I could do it all again…”

While listening to these poignant words, I stood motionless in the store aisle clutching a pair of kitchen curtains, fighting back tears. My faith crumbled.  I was fearful that the song was some kind of prophetic preparation for the bad news that was soon to be relayed concerning my loved one’s biopsy. Thank God, I was wrong. The physician’s verdict was “no cancer.”  I was so relieved that I can’t remember what the doctor said after that. But since then sometimes these challenging lyrics come back to me.

Like recently, when just days before the pool closed for the season, I heard Live Like You Were Dying over the loud speaker there. It’s been almost a decade since I had first heard this tune, and I now view life a lot like Morrie Schwartz. Because I think it was Morrie’s wisdom that taught me to try embrace whatever life stage you’re in as I traveled through his last days with him thanks to Albom’s writing.

You see, on the very day I met Mitch Albom, I had buried a precious 41-year-old friend after her valiant three year battle against breast cancer. Making me all too aware how fragile and brief this life can be. Albom’s Morrie didn’t become an iconic example of how one should die, but rather how one should live especially in a society that seems terrified of both growing old and death. In parting, a bit of Morrie’s sage advice, “Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die. It’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. This column originally appeared in The Lima News, & Troy Daily News, among others. Contact her through her Website: