An oversized postcard arrived today in the mail. Across the top, the headline revealed the statistic:
“1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. That one in 8 could be YOU!”
For any woman who has suffered from the devastating effects of breast cancer, that statistic is not only scary…it is a reality. And, one year ago this month, ironically in the month of breast cancer awareness, it became my reality too.
My goal is to help women dispel the common myths associated with breast cancer. When I found the lump in my breast, I was 36 years old. Naively, I thought I was:
- Too young to worry about breast cancer.
- Diagnosed with Fibrocystic breasts, so it would go away next month.
- Free from worry about breast cancer because it did not run in my family.
- Active and basically fit, so I was healthy.
In truth, because breast cancer is such a scary topic, I had built a mental wall of “it can’t happen to me” protection around myself. As you may have guessed, it did happen. One night in the shower, I found a sizable lump in my breast. A short jolt of panic ran through me, but I pushed it away with all of the reasons above. However, it continued to nag at me all night until the rationalizations could not quiet them any longer.
The next morning found me awake before the gynecologist office opened. My hands were shaking as I called the doctors office and explained the situation to the receptionist. With measured words and temperament, the receptionist told me to come into the office that morning for a check up. It was the longest drive to the doctor’s office and I did not tell my husband because I did not want to worry him…after all, it was nothing right?
I remember the doctor sitting at his desk. I remember his words, “We need to have that checked. It could be something,” the words echoed in my head past what I could understand as he explained the process of mammography. “Further, you should be aware that there are some chances that the insurance will not cover it because you are under the average age without a history of breast cancer in your family,” he explained, adding insult to injury. As a nurse quietly entered the office, he told me that she was going to make my appointment for me that day to have a series of tests.
“Today,” I stuttered. “Right now?” I could not believe it was all moving so fast. Yesterday, breast cancer was a charity I sent a check to once a year. Today, it was a reality. “Yes,” nurse explained, “a percentage of women decide that they do not want to know if they don’t follow up immediately and breast cancer moves very quickly.” I took a deep breath and shook my head as the nurse phoned my husband.
In the days that followed, I numbly walked through the process of joining those 1 in 8 women who have breast cancer in their lives. Except, as I looked around the waiting room of women waiting for their mammograms in this specialized clinic that only addressed breast cancer, I realized that there I was not one in 8 women. Each one of us in that room was that one woman to whom breast cancer was more than a pink ribbon. And, forever, it always would be.
One year later, I celebrate the lack of breast cancer by giving this common sense (I hope!) advice:
- Write Yourself a Check: Every month, complete your breast checks for lumps or changes. Look at it this way, your phone bill and power bill get paid every month because they send you a bill. Do the same! If you have schedule it into your pda, send yourself an email, connect with a girlfriend, or mark it on your calendar, then remind yourself every month.
- Breathe Deep and Often: Even the thought of breast cancer is enough to shake the soundest nerves. Learn to breathe deeply and calm yourself with one small step instead of focusing on the magnitude of the whole process.
- Strength, Not Sacrifice: Often, it is easy to step into a victim role of thinking about things you might have done wrong or way you have failed that caused this result. Instead, reach deeper and find the strength to do things that will make you feel good. Get a spa treatment, volunteer time for something you believe in, or get together with people you love.
- Consider Your Options: After my treatment, I learned through many friends that there are holistic treatments and preventions. Even if you are simply getting second opinion about your treatment, you will feel so much better and more confident about your course of action. Being informed will make the process much easier.
- Accept Support: Most women, during their journey with breast cancer, find it difficult to accept support. As women, we tend to offer support rather than accept it and often feel guilty for being the focus of attention. Let yourself accept the support from friends and family that will help you through the experience. During my final procedure, four people went with me to the doctor. We had breakfast on the way and chattered as we went. It made everything feel normal and helped me to avoid the nervous “what if” fretting that was so much a part of my life.
- Be a Voice: Talk about breast cancer to others. If you have children, share this with them. Let them see you as strong and acknowledge your fears. Help everyone around you and yourself by being a voice of what is happening. You will find when you help others understand…you help yourself work through what is happening to you.
- Respect Your Health: In reality, you are stronger than breast cancer. Finding a lump through early detection is the key to making sure that the treatments are short and the cure quick. If someone you loved had a lump that might be breast cancer, you would offer all of the support they needed. Do not love yourself less…keep a close check on your health with monthly self breast checks.
With monthly breast cancer checks and a healthy dose of reality (not fear!), you can use the information about breast cancer to increase your chances of detecting breast cancer early and overcoming the negative effects of breast cancer in your life. You can not control whether you will be among the one in eight women affected by breast cancer this year, but you can decide how you will handle it!