October 1 kicked off Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The day resonates with me. Most of us are aware of the staggering statistic that one in eight women will face a breast cancer diagnosis within their lifetime. Yet, we may still be complacent and think we’re not that one in eight. I learned differently on October 1, 2009.
One day in October
Here’s the excerpt from my CaringBridge journal from that day nine years ago: “I love journeys. They offer perspective, strength and courage. Fortunately, though, this journey will be short-lived as I conquer the news that I have breast cancer. I can say that it’s truly only a word. It will never define me. Never win its battle. I will win! And believing this brings me great comfort.
– October 1, 2009.”
The day our nation kicked off its pink awareness was the day I learned I was one of the 246,660 women who were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer that year. It wasn’t a diagnosis I was prepared for — who is? In fact, I’d just had a “clear” mammogram the week before.
That day in October I was fighting off a cold after training for a half-marathon with my sister. I thought the soreness from my underarm lymph nodes was a sign my immune system was working hard. I thought it was doing what it was supposed to do: fight the cold and relieve the aches from my run. But when my hand brushed against my chest and I felt a sore lump, I questioned my tender lymph nodes.
My journey begins
So, my journey started with an ultrasound that showed two areas of concern. After that, an MRI showed four areas of concern. What, seriously?!
You may know what comes next: biopsies, lymph node dissection, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery again, post-chemo Herceptin therapy and five years of adjuvant treatment. You most likely know this because you, your coworker, your friend, your mother, your aunt, your daughter or your mother-in-law may have experienced the unfortunate diagnosis.
Know your risk for breast cancer
When I was diagnosed, I was mad at myself for not fully grasping the fact that I could get breast cancer. The most significant risk factors are gender (being a woman) and age (growing older). You also can’t rely on family history, since more than 75 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history or genetic susceptibility. Ugh! That’s an overwhelming number.
Today, I’m a proponent for breast cancer risk assessments. Understanding your individual risk empowers you to take steps to lower your risk and make better health decisions. Understanding your breast density is critical, too. According to research, dense breasts can be six times more likely to develop cancer. Dense breasts also make it harder for mammograms to detect breast cancer. Yep, there we go: mine wasn’t detectable on the mammogram.
Today, I’m not running half-marathons, but I am chasing life.
Stay vigilant, sistas! Know your risk.