Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Write Pink!: Prevention, Liz's story

Welcome to Write Pink! From the Head, Heart and Feet: Prevention Week. This week we'll be focusing on the action part {hence, feet} of breast cancer awareness -- what we can all do to lesson our chances of developing breast cancer.

Please help me welcome Elizabeth, best known around the web as Luther Liz, as she shares her grandmother's story and takes us into day two of prevention week.

This is my Grandma and me.

She was first diagnosed with Breast cancer in 1984.

She was 53.

I was 5.

Her cancer was discovered with a mammogram and she went on to have chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery. It looked like she had it beaten for almost 5 years -- until it came back in her breasts and her lungs and her intestines ... Chemo didn’t stop it, and she entered hospice and died in 1992.

She was 61.

I was 13.

For 8 years growing up, the threat of breast cancer was a real presence in my life.

Still, thinking back about Grandma I don’t remember her by her breast cancer.

I remember Grandma as a powerful woman.

I remember that she went to college in her 50s because she’d never been able to before. She majored in Philosophy. She was known as the Iron Duchess in our family card games. She could make a dress out of a flour sack. She was at home on the farm and at the opera. She kept chocolate chips hidden in the pots and pans for when her granddaughters came over.

She was a powerful woman.

Breast cancer took her life finally but it failed to define her.

It is because of her that I write for breast cancer prevention.

We all know the main details of prevention – regular mammograms (after a certain age) and self exams (every month).

But it breaks down to something even more basic in my mind: Be your own Health Advocate.

This is a valuable tool with any health issues but it is especially important with breast cancer because you are the only person who has access to your breasts daily for your whole life. I think being your own health advocate for your breasts boils down to several things:

1. Know your family history.

To illustrate my point, please consider my mother. My mother knows her mom (grandma), her aunt (grandma’s sister) and one of her cousins all had breast cancer in their fifties. It has seemed pretty obvious that there is a potential breast cancer genetic link in our family.

But my mother is also not a major fan of doctors and medical intervention. She will avoid medications if possible and often seeks out holistic approaches to solve medical problems before she goes to see a doctor. She loves to second guess doctors and doesn’t take what they say at face value.

Yet she has a mammogram Every.Single.Year. because she knows her health history calls for extra vigilance of her breasts. Does she enjoy them? No, but she does them because she chooses to advocate for herself.

2. Know your breasts.

I think this goes further than simply doing self exams. I have lymph nodes that are located in my breasts. I know where they are and I know how big they should feel. If I have a cold I make sure to take stock of their size and make sure they go back down if they are inflamed.

I know how and where my breasts get tender during PMS and my period. I know how they felt when I was pregnant and when I was nursing. I am sure to know my arm pits, too, as there is breast tissue there, too. The point is that I know my breasts beyond the occasional self exams.(Though I should do those more often, too).

3. If you are worried, keep asking questions until you get answers.

There is nothing that makes me so sad as to hear someone whose cancer wasn’t found until it was too late because he/she ignored his/her own worries. Sometimes it is that they sit on a lump or concern for a while out of fear of looking silly, medical bills or what they might find.

But other times it can happen when you take a concern to a doctor only to have it dismissed without the proper tests. It is less common as breast cancer education improves, but doctors can still be quick to shrug off patients concerns because they are too young or things aren’t acting quite like “normal” cancer should be.

If you don’t receive satisfactory answers see another doctor. Ask questions. Ask for tests. Do your own research if needed. I’ve been lucky. I have good doctors. I’ve had mammograms and ultrasounds on my breasts 3 times before – to discover the lymph nodes and a cyst. The first time I had one done I was 26, which is far younger than the normal age of regular mammograms. It turned out to be nothing serious and part of me wanted to feel a bit silly for overreacting in my head, and yet, I got the tests that I needed to know that I was ok.

I had good doctors that took my concerns and my family history seriously. If I had been dismissed, I would have gone to see someone else despite my age. You are the best decider about whether something is wrong with your breasts or not. Take the time to act on any concern you are having and find a doctor who will take you seriously.

In summary, be your own health advocate.

Research on breast cancer has come a long way. Treatments are improved. Prognoses are better.

But none of that matters if you don’t advocate for you.

They are your breasts.

It is your life.

Don’t leave prevention in the hands of others. Don’t rely on a doctor catching something during your yearly physical.

If you won’t stand up for you who will?

Breast cancer took my Grandma, but it left a family of powerful women willing to advocate for themselves.

Won’t you join us and be your own advocate?

Elizabeth writes at Random Thoughts of a Lutheran Geek and tweets from @LutherLiz.

Remember, Thursday's the day to link up your Bigger Picture Moment about breast cancer prevention. {Blog or Facebook notes both work!}

By linking up, you will automatically be entered to win a set of four special edition glass straws from Strawesome.

By commenting on any one of the prevention posts, including Monday's, you will automatically be entered into a drawing to win Breast Cancer Scientist T shirt {adult or child-sized} from
Pigtail Pals.

And to get you thinking ...

Have you ever had to be your own health advocate? Are you quick to schedule a doctor's appointment upon finding something of concern or do you write it off as nothing?


  1. Thank you, Liz! I think I would be like your mother -- trying to avoid medicines and doctors as much as possible, EXCEPT when it comes to advocating for myself and my needs.

    The hard part for me seems to be that I don't have a family history of breast cancer. It makes me complacent. Which is why I'm doubly glad to be inspired by your words to know myself better.

  2. Such a poignant post! And an important message that all women should learn. The importance of being our own advocates and never feeling afraid to speak up when things just aren't right.

    Thank you!

  3. Thank you for sharing this! It was very encouraging and powerfully written.

    Breast cancer runs in my family on my mother's side and every time I go to the dr she reminds me that I have to get in for a mammagram. I usually agree to it and then forget about it.

    After reading this post, you can bet I won't forget to make that appt first thing tomorrow morning.

  4. I appreciated Liz sharing from her heart. I remember her going through the loss of her grandma. We must be our own advocates because no one else does it for us!

  5. Liz, this is such an excellent reminder to know your own body and speak when something is not normal! Awesome post. :) Thank you.

  6. Thank you, Liz! We are own advocates!


There's nothing better than good conversation ... but not while talking to myself. Will you play a part in this discussion?

AND will you pretty please have your email linked to your account or leave it for me so I can respond?

Thanks for taking the time to make these thoughts into conversation.