And I hope she’s not upset I’m writing about it. We aren’t the type of family to brag about the good or broadcast the bad. So when cancer struck my mom this past June, I was unsure how to react. I was scared, curious, angry and motivated. I was comforted by asking a lot of questions, defining her type of cancer and learning its causes, treatment options and survival rates.
Earlier this year, my mom went to her doctor to examine a lump in her breast. While the doctor was not concerned with that particular tissue, he did find another area of concern and within a few days, she was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma, a rare, but treatable, form of breast cancer. Luckily, she caught the cancer early, before it had a chance to spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of her body. Specialists at a nearby breast cancer center have already removed the cancerous tissue (via lumpectomy) and will administer chemotherapy and radiation over the coming months to destroy any remaining cancer cells in her body and (hopefully) ensure the cancer doesn’t reoccur.
(Gemma and Rainbow Bear cuddle with Granny after her first of two lumpectomies, Danville, IL, July 2013)
(My mom and I the day before my wedding, Beaufort, SC, October 2005)
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is only fitting I just confirmed my appointment later this month with an oncologist at UNC to get a baseline mammogram, discuss my risk factors and determine whether I am a valid candidate for genetic testing to determine if I have abnormalities in my BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes. With my mom’s recent breast cancer diagnosis, combined with an aunt who died of breast cancer around 40 years of age, I’m taking steps to be proactive about my breast health.
The statistics are scary. One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. It’s a nasty disease but there are things we can all do to lower our risk of breast cancer.
- Touch yourself every now and then. (Perform a self breast exam to check for lumps or unusual changes in your breast tissue.)
- Get intimate with your doctor. (Don’t be shy to communicate if you’ve noticed changes in your breast tissue, have unusual weight fluctuations or changes in your energy levels; your doctor can perform a clinical breast exam to thoroughly examine breast tissue.)
- Get a baseline mammogram. (This can provide medical staff with a picture of your current/healthy breasts so they can evaluate changes or abnormalities over time.)
- Get active. (Exercise is good for your body. Period.)
- Eat smart. (Healthy foods fuel your body and raise your immune system; researchers are finding diet to be responsible for 30-40% of cancers.)
- Lay off the bottle. (Aside from the benefits your child receives, breastfeeding may lower your risk of breast cancer.)
- Lay off the booze. (Alcohol may increase your risk of breast cancer by damaging DNA cells.)
I hope you’ll join me in praying for those who haven’t yet been diagnosed, honoring the women and men who have lost the battle with breast cancer, and celebrating the survivors who inspire us! Visit http://www.breastcancer.org/ to learn more about breast cancer symptoms, treatments and how to lower your risk.