October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Founded in 1985, the conception of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was to promote mammography and early dedication in women. Now over 30 years later, October is the month where we paint the town pink. From the popularized pink breast cancer ribbon to NFL players sporting pink cleats, it is hard not to be aware that the month marks Breast Cancer Awareness. But is awareness enough to make an individual impact? Can we be simultaneously aware and disillusioned? Are we culturally aware, but not self-aware? What role do you play in early detection and fighting for a cure?
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and has touched many of us in some way. According to the latest research by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 American women are at risk for developing breast cancer within her lifetime. This year about 252,710 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as 2,470 men. Similar to many, I am personally impacted by breast cancer.
Three very important women in my life have all had breast cancer. My grandmother was diagnosed at the age of 77. My mother was diagnosed the same year at the age of 46. And my best friend was recently diagnosed at the age of 29.
My grandmother was diagnosed during a routine screening. She underwent a lumpectomy and completed radiation treatment. Her treatment course appeared to be uncomplicated, until her daughter (my mother) was diagnosed less than two-months later. My grandmother dealt with cancer and the guilt of potentially passing on the gene to her child.
My mother had a history of fibroid cysts and was monitored by an oncologist. After years of normal scans, my mother admittedly allowed her regular monitoring to lapse. After my grandmother was diagnosed, my mother and Aunt scheduled breast exams. My mother’s oncologist detected a small lump in my mother’s breast that was not identified on her mammogram. He did a needle aspiration for additional testing and later a lumpectomy at my mother’s insistence. The lump was breast cancer.
My best friend noticed a lump in her breast last February. When the lump did not go away after several days, she made an appointment with her doctor to get it checked out. Despite my friend’s age and the absence of breast cancer in her family, the doctor took my her concerns seriously. Thank god that he did. She was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, and is undergoing her second round of chemotherapy after a mastectomy.
Within these three personal examples are stories of bravery, love, strength, fear and survival. But for my purposes, I am focusing on these women's self-awareness and self-advocacy. If my grandmother was not diligent about routine doctor's visits, her breast cancer may not have been detected as early. If my mother did not believe that she knew her body best, then she may not have advocated for the surgery that was right for her. If my friend was not aware of her how her breasts normally looked and felt, she may not have noticed the small change to her body or sought help. Without self-awareness, these stories, and my life, may have been very different.
As women, it is important to know our bodies. But what are we actually doing to prioritize our health? Are we doing monthly breast exams? Are we ignoring important signs that can be later life saving? How do we take our health into consideration?
I believe that we empower ourselves with both knowledge and awareness. When it comes to spotting cancer, the earlier the better. Early detection means finding cancer before it spreads. Self-awareness is a big part of early detection. Be aware of your body, including any changes. For breast awareness, know the normal look and feel of your breasts. Everyone's breasts are different so tell your doctor if you notice anything that may be considered abnormal for you. Also, understand what increases and decreases your risk for breast cancer, including your family history, family genetics, and lifestyle choices.
Do you know what to look for? Worldwide Breast Cancer, a non-profit charity focused on early detection, started #KnowYourLemons campaign several years ago. The campaign was shared multiples times on social media and reached millions of people globally.
Know Your Lemons: 12 Signs of Breast Cancer
Click here for further explanation of the signs of breast cancer.
American Cancer Society (2017). How common is breast cancer? Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.html
Bright Pink (2017). Retrieved from www.brightpink.org
Fischer, K (2017). The best breast cancer blogs of the year. Healthline. Retrieved from www.healthline.com
National Breast Cancer Foundation (2017). Breast cancer facts. Retrieved from http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-facts
Raybourn, J (n.d.) Breast cancer awareness month: Self-awareness is key. Amber Pharmacy. Retrieved from https://www.amberpharmacy.com/breast-cancer-awareness-month-self-awareness-key/
World Wide Breast Cancer (2017). Know your lemons. Retrieved from https://www.worldwidebreastcancer.org/