Monday, October 11, 2010

Write Pink!: Prevention, Rachael'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.

I'm so excited to give Rachael's story a home this week not only because she is a fantastic writer with a powerful story to share but also because she and I were managing editor and editor of our college newspaper. In fact, we once were so unified our staff referred to us both as Ryacind -- which is a convuluted combination of Rachael and Hyacynth.

It's exciting to be sharing the same writing space once again.

But enough about our history together; let's get those feet moving.


If you think about it, we exercise problem prevention and early detection of problems all the time. We buckle our seatbelts in the car not only because it’s the law, but because it’s prevention against injury should we get into an accident. We brush our teeth to prevent cavities and we wash our hands to prevent illness (and, well, because it's just gross not to!).

We're always on the lookout for preventing and identifying problems in our health, our finances, our relationships, our children, our work. But sometimes, problems come up anyway, and then we're forced to react. Women – and men – are problem-solvers by nature. We're precautionary police officers for ourselves and our loved ones. It's just what we do.

Breast cancer? It's no different. When considering breast cancer prevention, early detection is key – and my family is living proof of this.

My mom’s a breast cancer survivor. Her cancer was caught in the very earliest of stages – just a few cancerous cells, but trailing cells, indicative of the potential for a quick and dangerous spread.

It was caught at a routine mammogram in mid-April 2008. A shadowy mark on the initial mammogram results led an alert pathologist to check again, and then again, and finally make the terrible diagnosis.

The cancer was tiny, in its infancy stages, barely Stage I, but enough to warrant lymph-node-removal surgery and radiation treatment. My parents broke the news about the diagnosis on a sunny Saturday morning, telling us that a surgery to remove three lymph nodes in her breast was scheduled for that coming Monday. Once the surgery was done, we'd know how far the cancer progressed and what the course of treatment would be.

Throughout that terrible weekend of accepting the news and waiting for the surgery (and tears – at the post office, at a White Sox game, watching TV, doing nothing at all), my parents could continually tell my sisters and I that they were optimistic because the diagnosis came early -- that her mammogram was important, and had provided us the news we needed as soon as her body started to grow the cancer.

Because of her mammogram, we'd have the best news we could get out of this disease.
On TV and in movies, it's common that breast-cancer detection is portrayed through the detection of a lump in a woman's breast, or because a woman is feeling pain or illness. But my mom -- she couldn’t have felt a lump, because there was no lump. She didn’t feel sick because the cancer was still young enough that it wasn’t affecting her day-to-day wellness. There would have been no reason for my mom to go to the doctor had she not had made the commitment to annual mammograms.

Had she decided to skip the test, or reschedule it, or had never planned it in the first place, her diagnosis, treatment and path to recovery could have been much, much worse.

My mom is healthy, watches what she eats, exercises regularly and has no family history of breast cancer. Why would she go for a mammogram? She could have decided to go do something else – walk her two pugs, work in her job as an administrator at our local hospital, go to yoga with friends, talk with her three daughters (Hey Mom! Call me!) but her commitment to mammograms as a early detection device brought her to the doctor's office that day and brought us her early, treatable diagnosis.

Today, she’s cancer-free and has only a few small scars, quarterly oncology appointments and a daily prescription for Tamoxafin for her troubles. She – and my sisters, my dad, our extended family and friends who feel like family to us – credit her recovery to her commitment to mammograms and the early detection they provide.

Doctors have estimated that thousands of cases of breast cancer have been successfully treated because the cancer was caught early. In fact, breast cancer death rates have been decreasing since 1990, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Will mammograms and a healthy lifestyle completely eradicate this terrible disease? Unfortunately not. But like buckling your seatbelt, loading up on the Crest, locking your door at night and building a savings account, it's an important step to prevention.

What can I do to regularly check myself for breast cancer?
Mammograms: A mammogram can detect breast cancer up to two years before a lump could be felt by you or your doctor (www.cancercare.org). A a mammogram is an X-ray of the breast and can help docs spot cysts, masts and calcifications in your breast tissue. If a questionable spot is seen on the X-ray, your doctor will perform more tests to determine if the spot is cancerous or not. If you are older than forty, you should be getting annual mammograms.

Mammograms are easy, painless and quick; they are covered by many major healthcare providers and is one of the most important actions a women older than 40 can take to detect the potential onset of breast cancer.

Clinical breast exams: Women in their twenties and thirties should have a Clinical Breast Exam (CBE) as part of your annual Well-Woman exam, regardless of family history or current medical situations. A CBE is just what it sounds like – your healthcare provider will examine your breasts for new lumps and take action if there's a questionable change in your breasts.

Breast self-exams: Women of all ages should be doing regular breast self-exams. You know your body better than anyone else does. Check your breasts regularly for new lumps, skin irritations or unusual nipple discharge. For tips on how to conduct a breast self-exam, please visit Cancer.org.

Rachael doesn't blog anywhere, but she really should. However, you can catch her playing in the DuPage Symphony Orchestra or hanging out with her man, her bully of a cat and her cute, little pup, Wally when she's not working or running or orchastra-ing.

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 today's, you will automatically be entered into a drawing to win Creast Cancer Scientist T shirt {adult or child-sized} from
Pigtail Pals.

And to get you thinking ...

Do you do self breast exams? Have you gotten a mammogram already? Have you had any hang ups or success with either?

5 comments:

  1. "Will mammograms and a healthy lifestyle completely eradicate this terrible disease? Unfortunately not. But like buckling your seatbelt, loading up on the Crest, locking your door at night and building a savings account, it's an important step to prevention."

    Amen. I may never be robbed, but I still lock my doors at night. Perfect way to explain the whys and wherefores for those who don't see the point.

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  2. Rachael, this was a fabulous story about how critical it is to use early-detection methods so that we can prevent a more serious diagnosis. Thank you so much for writing today!

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  3. it is so good to hear a story of someone catching it early like this. the information on mammography can be so confusing! i'm only 30, but my half sister got breast cancer. do i need to schedule one? what about the reports that mammograms can actually increase one's risk (bc of low dose radiation.) it can be so overwhelming, but i'm glad to hear that they can and do catch cancer early. so glad your mom is cancer-free today!

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  4. Hyacynth, I agree with you when you wrote that Rachael should have a blog! Very well said.

    Rachael, it sounds like your mom has many more years of good health ahead of her! Thank goodness her mammogram found her cancer early.

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  5. I've done the occasional self-breast-exam, and have never had a mammogram. I'm still younger than the recommended age for those, but...that worries me a little bit.

    With all the hullaballoo a few months (years?) ago about how mammograms should only be done every couple of years and for women over, like 50? (I don't remember exactly...) It frightens me that mammograms were under-recommended, I guess.

    This comment isn't making much sense anymore :) But this WAS a wonderful post. Thanks Rachael! (And I agree -- the world needs you as a blogger!)

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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.

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