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.
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.