CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Breast cancer is a part of my daily life since my mom has had breast cancer and I am high risk. It's hard for me not to think about it, search it on the Internet, donate to it, ask about it, walk for it... cry about it. But I know that isn't the case for everyone. All I have learned could potentially save my life, but for me it's just as important to increase other's awareness so other lives can possibly be saved.
Even if you never get breast cancer your life may somehow be touched by the reality of this sometimes fatal disease. It could affect a family member, a loved one, a friend or co-worker. The American Cancer Society estimates that this year alone 194,280 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed in the United States, while 40,170 are estimated to die from it.
My mother was 46 years old when she found out she had breast cancer. To say she was upset is an understatement; I remember the tears of fear, confusion and disbelief she shed. After all, breast cancer was something that happened to other people, but that's the hard part -- it can happen to anyone.
Cancer in and of itself can be scary, but what increased my fears was that in my mom's case her doctors said the tumor must have been growing somewhere between five to 10 years, based on its size.
A possible 10 years and it wasn't found. It wasn't until my mother experienced such a drastic change in her breast that she went to a hospital, where they ended up aspirating a cyst larger than a golf ball. My mother, who has annual breast exams, has had cysts in her breasts for many years. They are why the doctors didn't notice the cancer tumor -- it was hiding behind her non-cancerous cysts.
The doctors were able to do a lumpectomy despite how long the tumor had grown, but for others, 10 years could have been the difference between life and death.
Mom went through radiation treatments and was told that she had to be on medicine for five years, but because she didn't need chemotherapy or a mastectomy -- she is considered one of the "lucky ones".
Whether someone goes through a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation or medication, it doesn't change the fact that being diagnosed with cancer can be a frightening, disturbing, life-altering experience. A number of men and women, in addition to their daily battles with cancer, also have to try and combat depression.
Her journey is not over even though the cancer is gone. After the lumpectomy she had reconstructive surgery, she then had complications from it. The complications led to another surgery, which she is currently recovering from, but once again with problems. She is a strong woman, but it's been hard for her.
So what does this mean? Why should you care? I'm not asking anyone to care about my mother's plight, but I am asking to be aware and educate yourself. There's support and information out there if you know where to look thanks to the people who do great things to increase awareness, raise money for research and show support for the men and woman fighting this potentially deadly disease.
I started learning more about breast cancer because of my mother's situation and my own various high risk factors, but just because you or a loved one may not have an increased risk doesn't mean you are immune to breast cancer.
October is breast cancer awareness month so now is as good of a time as any to get educated. A great place to start is to call the American Cancer Society at (800) ACS-2345 or check out their Web site. Through ACS, I was able to speak to an office in my mom's local area and find out about specific programs and resources. With all that my mom is going through, it took my intervention to get the ball rolling. Sometimes things are just too difficult for the person who actually has the cancer.
One of the things I did was arrange for a one-on-one visit through ACS's program called Reach-to-Recovery. Another thing I did was get information about cancer for myself. Knowledge is power and early detection can help save lives.
Listed below are some of the resources out there -- I hope you take a moment now to learn instead of waiting until your life is turned upside down.