This month, the American Cancer Society announced changes to their list of recommendations for women who are at an average risk of breast cancer. Before I was diagnosed, I was part of this list. No family history. No personal history. In my early 30's. You get the picture.
From the ACS website:
Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. The risks of screening as well as the potential benefits should be considered.
Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
Women age 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or have the choice to continue yearly screening.
Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms associated with breast cancer screening. They should also be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away.
A few days ago, on my Facebook page, I posted a link for an article that was referring to the changes that have been made. In another case of "thinking before leaping", I posted my thoughts about the changes, without even looking at the ACS website to see what they had written there. Now that I have read what is written there, I can see that I mostly agree with what it says there. I think it is important to note that they used the wording "should have the choice." That is what I have been advocating all along. Women should have the choice to have a mammogram, or to do whatever else they and their loved ones feel is best for them.
Now, having said all of that, if I would have waited until I was 40 to choose to have a mammogram, I would not be here. Plain and simple. It is what it is.
This is where I always have to insert my personal opinion that being aware of your body and noticing changes is very important. Also, (and this is where I emphasize that this is what worked for me) I listened to what God was telling me. I found my lump by divine intervention. I was not doing self breast exams. I had an itch near my armpit one hot, summer day and I felt the lump. I went to my doctor and, long story short, I had a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy and discovered that I was a breast cancer patient.
And here's an interesting fact for you...my mammogram did not pick up my lump. It was too high on my breast. So, are mammograms helpful for early detection then? I guess you can decide that for yourself. My opinion is yes. If you feel that something is out of the ordinary and you want a mammogram, don't rest until you get one.
Because I was diagnosed at 33, my sisters and daughters are able to go in for regular mammograms starting at the age of 23. Am I recommending that they do this? Absolutely. Even though breast tissue is more dense at younger ages, I would much rather have them go in and be called back for "suspicious areas" that turn out to be nothing than to have them not go in until they are 30 or 40 and have it be too late. My sisters have chosen to have mammograms and when my girls reach the age of 23, I will let them decide for themselves what they want to do. It comes back to the phrase "should have a choice."
Breast cancer does not just affect women. I do not personally know any men who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, but I know they are out there and my heart goes out to them. We all are aware that breast cancer affects thousands of women every year. That is one thing that the pink campaign has accomplished, awareness for women, and that is good. However, this year, it is expected that around 2,000 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. They are out there and they need our love and support every bit as much as the women do.
No matter what stage or what cancer you have, everyone faces a battle, and as my shirt says, "Brave has many faces." Some battles are short, some battles are long. It doesn't matter what your cancer looks like- cancer is hard. It changes your life, for good and for bad, at least in my case it did. I wish that we could steer away from pitting one stage against another or one cancer against another. Cancer is cancer and everyone's journey is hard for them. We need to focus on loving people through the journey instead of saying, "Well, she/he was only a stage one, she/he had it easy. No. No cancer is easy, physically, mentally, or emotionally. It is hard for everyone. What we need to do is ask, "What can I do to help you?" and then be ready to follow through with action.
I have seen first hand how cancer has touched lives. I have seen it in my own life, and in the lives of the people that have been brought into my life because of cancer. That is one of the good things that cancer has brought into my life- more friends to love.
This picture was taken yesterday. It is a photo of me and my friend, Tia (AKA H2O). We met a little over two years ago during one of the most wonderful weeks of my life. I have watched Tia struggle with Stage 4 Breast cancer from afar, always praying for her and wracking my brain to know what I could possibly do to help her. After our conversation yesterday, I came to a conclusion.
The best thing, in my opinion, that we can do for people who are living with cancer is to listen to them. Find out what they are struggling with the most. Is it medical bills? Putting food on the table for their families? Needing a ride to doctor's appointments or someone to keep them company during treatments? Do they need their house cleaned, or a chauffeur for their kids? What is it that would truly benefit that particular cancer patient the most?
Listen, I am not a pink hater. Pink was very important on my journey and I will always love what the color represents for me. I also know that there are companies out there who do truly care about helping breast cancer patients and who do donate a good portion of the money they earn from pink sales to help fund research and support services.
Do we need to raise more money for cancer research? Absolutely. Let's find out what is triggering the disease and stop it before it starts. Yes, please. Let's do that. Let's also figure out what we can do to stop it from reoccurring. Yes, let's do that to.
While we are doing those things, let's also remember that every cancer patient has a face, a name, a family, and a hope for their future. Let's take a few moments to ask them, "What can I do for you today?" and then let's get to work by helping them beyond the pink.