The very thought of getting breast cancer sends cold chills through most women. But did you know that breast cancer affects both women and men? October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so it will be good to discuss just what we’re supposed to be aware of.
I’d guess there are very few adults who haven’t had a family member, friend, or co-worker affected by breast cancer. My mother and my youngest brother’s wife, TLK, have both been treated for it. They are both heroic survivors. My young sister-in-law is in remission and we hope that someday she will be declared cured too. Mom and TLK each had a dramatically different treatment journey because their individual breast cancers were of different cell types. Today doctors customize treatments to individuals and their individual situations. That’s why it’s hard to compare one person’s treatment regimen to another’s.
Mom’s lobular and invasive ductal carcinomas required a unilateral mastectomy. She entered an experimental drug study. Ten years later she was informed she had indeed received the new drug Taxol in addition to customary Tamoxifen, Adriamycin and Cytoxan. We still rejoice over her cure. One amusing story remains from her struggle. She chose not to have a breast reconstruction. A buxom woman and avid golfer, she asserted her mastectomy improved her golf swing. Mom has always made lemonade from lemons. I marvel.
TLK’s cancer, Triple-Negative Breast Cancer, required bilateral mastectomy, hysterectomy, vigorous chemotherapy, and radiation. She had a really rough two years of treatments and surgeries, but she is nearing two years since the end of her treatments and even better, she’s doing very well. She’s a statuesque and beautiful woman so naturally when the reconstructive surgeon’s office staff organized their annual runway style show, they invited her to model. I’ve seen pictures of the standing-room-only event. Assuredly and without reservation I know TLK was the most beautiful woman in a five-state radius that evening.
My point in telling you these stories is that today much can be done to treat breast cancer. The cancer therapies of 20 and even 5 years ago are being improved by the minute thanks to brave study participants and their astute researchers.
Cancer is so much more treatable and yes, even curable, with early detection. Two simple detection methods are breast self-examination and mammograms. The National Breast Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society and many other reputable on-line sources describe how to perform a self-exam and when to get a mammogram. Another excellent source of information is your private physician or an oncology office. Free information is accessible through any public library, health department or of course your local hospital.
Here’s a special word for all our male readers: although the risk of male breast cancer is rare, it does occur in about 1% of all breast cancer cases in the U.S. Male breast cancer survival rates are about the same as for women with the same stage of breast cancer at the time of diagnosis, according to the Komen Foundation. However, male breast cancer is sadly and often initially detected at late stage.
Both women and men should regularly examine their breasts. Be concerned about breast changes such as painful or painless lumps, dimpling, skin puckering, skin redness, pulling in of the nipple or discharge from the nipple, or change in size or shape of the breast. If any of these symptoms are detected in men or women, a physician’s visit is warranted soon even if you’ve had a recent normal mammogram. And gentlemen: it’s OK to be embarrassed about something like your third speeding ticket in two months! But it’s sure not OK to die because you were too embarrassed to consult a doctor about breast changes.
You’ve heard it before: early detection saves lives. You definitely have the power to save your own life. I urge you to do just that.