Within the last six months, my life and the life of my family has been turned upside down. About six months ago, a lump was found in the breast of my mother-in-law. The lump was removed and she is currently undergoing chemotherapy, which will be followed up with radiation. She’s chosen to shave her head and has lost a significant amount of weight.
Watching my husband go on the emotional journey of seeing his mother go through this process was heartbreaking. Other than being a place of comfort, there was nothing else I could do for him. Thankfully, my mother-in-law has kept her spirits up and has been incredibly strong through the process, which is very admirable. She was lucky enough to be diagnosed early, so early that she isn’t technically a stage. The words of reassurance from doctors give us a positive outlook and a huge sigh of relief.
Six months later, when things with my mother-in-law began to settle and she neared the ended of her treatment, we were hit with another tragic event. My own mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer. While I had just gone through the experience of my mother-in-law being diagnosed, nothing prepared me for my own mother’s diagnosis. As I write this I am still in a state of shock. Like most people’s family situations, my mother is the glue that holds my family together. The thought of not having her in my life or in my family’s life is the scariest feeling. While she was lucky enough to have the cancer caught early, there is still a fear that it has spread to her stomach, something we won’t know until her surgery in a few weeks. My mother’s a fighter and we’re staying positive and hoping for the best.
I can’t stress the importance of early detection enough. The American Cancer Society states that over 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Since 1990, deaths from breast cancer have gone down by 34%, thanks to early detection and an increase in medical treatment.
Unfortunately, about 29% of insured women and 68% of uninsured women aren’t having regular mammograms. I can tell you from experience, my mother put off having a mammogram because she was afraid it would hurt – a feeling most women have when it comes to the procedure. After much hassling my mother went and had a mammogram. A lump was found in her breast, but thankfully it was benign. She now makes it a priority to have her yearly mammogram and said it wasn’t actually that bad.
“A lot of women who are now approaching that age when mammograms become part of their yearly exam have that fear, that it will be uncomfortable or awkward. Personally, I’d chose the few moments of discomfort over a battle for my life with a deadly disease.”
According to the American Cancer Society, you should start self-examining your breasts at 20 years of age. The importance of self exams isn’t just to identify any lumps or abnormalities within your breasts, but to familiarize yourself with your breasts, for future reference. At the age of 40, the American Cancer Society suggests that women receive yearly mammograms. The recent change in age from 50 to 40 is to help reduce the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the later stages. Early detection is the key.
It is also suggested that if you have a family history of breast cancer, to inform your gynecologist and discuss having mammograms earlier. If you are uninsured or from a low income family you can contact your local CDC, who will work with the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program to provide you with a reduced cost or free exam. The same can be done for yearly gynecologist visits.
Lastly, when visiting your doctor, don’t keep any secrets. They aren’t there to judge you, they’re there to help you. If you are having irregular menstrual cycles, heavy menstrual cycles, extreme cramping, clotting, let your gynecologist know. Sometimes things can be early warning signs for more serious medical issues. Pap smears really aren’t that bad and while seeing a gynecologist is a little nerve racking – especially having to share your sexual history with someone you don’t know – it’s absolutely worth it.
“I hope that through my experience you can understand the importance of early detection. If not for yourself, think of those around you whose lives will be undoubtedly changed.”
This article appeared in our 2015 Women’s Issue digital magazine. You can read more amazing articles about women here!