BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
October is many things, including the anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Although breast cancer awareness should be promoted all year round, this month tends to focus on an intense campaign to promote awareness, education and empowerment to women of all ages. Given my background as an educator and registered nurse, I cannot help, but to share some reminders and statistics.
Statistics show that one in eight women will get breast cancer at some point during their lifetime. Here are statistics broken down in age:
Age 30 to39 – 1 in 233
Age 40 to 49 – 1 in 69
Age 50 to 59 – 1 in 38
Age 60 to 69 – 1 in 27
For more information, check out this website: http://www.nbcam.org/about_nbcam.cfm.
Personally, eight years have already passed since my diagnosis with breast cancer and I have to say that I feel better than ever. Because I feel so good I want to urge women over the age of forty to get annual mammograms. The reason I am still here today is because mine saved my life. My type of cancer, called DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) is sometimes called, ‘precancer,’ and is only detected on mammograms.
Coincidentally, this month the Mayo Clinic Women’s Health Source Newsletter featured an article, entitled, “Ductal Carcinoma: A Highly Treatable Breast Cancer.” The article says that before mammograms very few women were diagnosed with DCIS and now more than 62,000 cases are diagnosed yearly, which also accounts for about 20 percent of all new cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year. The good news is that its treatment is extremely successful with a 10-year survival rate of almost 100 percent.
DCIS occurs when abnormal cells multiply and form a tumor or growth in the mammary duct. The first sign is the growth of calcium deposits (calcifications) which on a mammogram look like clusters of white spots, often confused with talcum powder. In general, DCIS is not life-threatening, but if not treated early, it can progress into invasive cancer. The biggest challenge with this type of cancer is deciding on its treatment. Fortunately due to the diligence of my fabulous doctors, mine saved my life.
Ultimately we are all responsible for our own health and the more we understand about our own bodies, the better we can take care of ourselves and maintain a path of health. For me, one of the most beneficial paths to my own health was writing about my experience in my forthcoming memoir Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Story, which will be out in the Summer of 2010, just before next year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s one poem from that book:
To My Daughters
You were the first I thought of
when diagnosed with what
strikes one in eight women.
It was too soon to leave you,
but I thought it a good sign
that none of us were born
under its pestilent zodiac.
I stared at the stars and wished upon
each one that you’d never wake up
as I did this morning to one real breast
and one fake one; but that the memories
you carry will be only sweet ones,
and then I remembered you had your
early traumas of being born too soon,
and losing a beloved grandpa too young
and then I had this urge to show you
the scars on the same breast
you cuddled as babies, but then wondered
why you’d want to see my imperfections
and perhaps your destiny.
I caved in and showed you anyway,
hoping you’d learn to be careful, as
if it really mattered, because your grandpa
used to say when your time’s up, it’s up.
May he always watch over you.