October … Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
I’m still wrapping my brain around my newfound connection to the importance of this month.
This time last year, I entered into this month three weeks following a double mastectomy and preparing for my second round of chemotherapy treatment.
There was an end goal in sight, as well as a purpose left to fill. Well, that was my belief.
When a “public figure” (or so I’ve been told I am) finds themselves in a position to positively impact another life, even in the smallest of ways; we must do it. That’s at least how I believe and the position I took, as I traveled this (new to me) path.
Now granted, there are many who choose to walk this very personal journey in silence and restrict much to those closest to them. I not only get that, I completely respect it and during my battle – it is indeed a battle – there were moments we kept certain things close to the chest.
Yet, one year later here we are and the month still strikes as one with purpose. Now “cancer free,” we celebrate my newly acquired “Cancer Survivor” title and adjust to what that life looks like. It’s still one of uncertainty and at times confusion. I shared my thoughts on this a few weeks back, so at the risk of being redundant I’ll just simply state there are moments to this which are not dissimilar to life in general. It can all just be confusing.
As we enter into this month of Breast Cancer Awareness, I feel it worthwhile to once again share a bit of my story. For those who have read, heard or been told it before, do me a favor – clip this piece and give it to someone who hasn’t.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is great for reminding women to get their mammogram.
With no immediate breast cancer history in my bloodline, I made a boo boo and missed one of my every other year visits. Here’s the thing however, my “lump” was found because its inconvenient position woke me in the middle of sleep. It hurt and that was off putting.
Some will tell you if it hurts, it’s probably not cancer. As a Stage 3, breast cancer survivor I can honestly say, that’s a myth.
Equally important to know is one other prevention tactic I had let slide, the self-exam.
The day of my diagnostic ultra sound with mammogram the tech asked how I found the 6 centimeter mass. Once I shared the details with her, she was quick to share something a bit unorthodox.
“I’m not sure your religious belief,” she stated out of the blue, “but there is no way we ever would have found this in a traditional/standard mammogram. That you found this in the way you did, well, it’s a God thing.”
Stunned a bit and grateful at the same time, I let her candidness sink in a bit. As the weeks unfolded that simple “it’s a God thing,” declaration played over and over again.
Now with 18 months of this journey well under my belt there are a few things I know for sure.
The first and most important for all to understand and embrace is no two cancers are the same. In other words, even if your diagnosis such as mine, Stage 3, Triple Negative, Localized Aggressive Breast Cancer, is the same diagnosis as my best friend, it’s still not the same. Her genetic make-up, as well as mental state are not the same as mine.
Cancer is so much bigger than the simple diagnosis; physical and mental state absolutely factor in to the journey and how one fares.
There’s also professional advice and personal choice.
During my journey I learned that most women my age do not embrace the double mastectomy option. It’s actually more common in women in their 20’s and 30’s who test BRCA positive, showing a mutation in the breast cancer gene and a higher likelihood for inheriting breast cancer.
Personally, the choice was a no brainer. I’m not sure if it’s due to never having a strong connection to that part of my body, by way of vanity or just the idea that “the girls” had created enough drama and had to go. Either which way, it was a personal choice I felt right for me. It was also highly recommended by my primary surgeon given the type of cancer I had.
I could go on and on, regarding this topic; there’s so many levels, emotions and stages to a cancer diagnosis. Given however that it is Breast Cancer Awareness month and I’m blessed to be a “survivor,” here’s what I’d hope most to be the takeaway.
Knowing your body is critical to your optimum health. Trusting an annual or bi-annual test to ensure you’re well is foolish. Sorry not sorry, but it absolutely is. Simply put, your mammogram may come back clear in May and your cancer may begin growing that following July. Do. Your. Self. Exam., because what I know for sure is depending on which type you happen to get the growth can be quick and no one wants that. Don’t put off doctor’s appointments if you have a “bad feeling,” keep yourself at the top of the health list.
Lastly, please don’t shy away from this conversation with the young women in your life, you don’t have to have history to have a positive diagnosis – I’m proof of that.
The funny thing about history is someone always has to be the first for the history to begin. As the pioneer of my family’s now-history, I share that honestly. Both of my children will now check the box for history. That’s not fun, but knowledge as they say is power and early detection is key to (if you’re lucky) survival.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 209-847-3021.