Hello beautiful people!
I hope you're all doing good and life is shining bright. It's October, and there's something I wanted to share with you.
Most of you here are women - after all, who read and who write romance mostly? Women, right? I know there are some blokes on board too (amazing fellas, btw!), and these guys have women in their lives - wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, female friends.
So it's October, and as you probably know, this is the month for Breast Cancer Awareness. I am a two-time survivor of breast cancer, and there's nothing I want more than to help other women and prevent them from having to go through what I went through. I'm not asking for sympathy, but when you're prepared to face a situation, you're much better off than someone who is clueless - as I was before the disease struck me, first time in a total back-stabbing move; second time as a slap in the face that I managed to block because I as armed with the information.
Let's start with some common stuff most women (usually over 30) know about breast cancer:
- It happens after you turn 40.
- It happens after menopause.
- If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, get yourself checked.
- If you're on the pill, the risk for breast cancer increases.
- Have a mammogram every 3 years after 30, yearly after 40.
- To have breast cancer, there needs to have a family history of it.
- The more excess weight you carry, the higher your risk of getting breast cancer (especially after 40 and/or menopause)
All of this is true, to a certain extent, but this is just the tip of the iceberg where breast cancer is really concerned!
I knew all about these aspects of breast cancer - especially the "after 40" aspect. Hadn't "heard" about them as there didn't seem to be any awareness campaign 10-15 years ago, but read about them online (thanks to newsletters of women-oriented sites like iVillage.com and sofeminine.co.uk). I'm also one of those anal 'patients' who reads all the literature about any drug I take, thus I knew there was a risk when taking the pill because I read that small sheet with the kill-your-eyes small font. I knew there was a family history on my mother's side, but I always glossed over any aspect after hearing/seeing "after 40" in the literature.
I thought I knew. I thought I was covered. I thought I had time (I was in my early twenties).
How wrong I was! It took me finding a solid, golf-ball sized lump in my left breast to drive it all home. I had celebrated my 22nd birthday a week earlier. That's when I fell on any information about breast cancer I could find, and helped along by my terrific oncologist answering my every nit-picky question, I found a picture that is most of the time hidden.
Let's take some of those common knowledge stuff listed above.
It happens after 40.
Not necessarily. It depends what type of cancer - estrogen-receptor positive or estrogen-receptor negative (more on that in a minute). Most women are more at risk of the estrogen-linked cancer than the rest.
It happens after menopause.
Again, largely due to the estrogen receptor. A big catalyst of the 'after menopause' debate is the use of Hormone-Replacement Therapy.
If there's a history of breast cancer in your family, get yourself checked.
Only too true! Breast cancer in the family is the genetic type of cancer, the one that gets passed on through genes. A mutation in specific genes, BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, is responsible for the cancer trigger. And these don't heed age - they won't wait until you're over 40 to strike! (as it was the case with me).
If you're on the pill, the risk for breast cancer increases.
True - but again this is the estrogen-receptor positive type of breast cancer that comes into play.
Have a mammogram every 3 years after 30, yearly after 40.
True - prevention is better than cure. But a mammogram is not prevention enough, not even yearly, at any age! I'll tell you why shortly.
To have breast cancer, there needs to be a family history of it.
Yes, and no. Furthermore, do you know your whole family history?
The more excess weight you carry, the higher your risk of getting breast cancer (especially after 40 and/or menopause)
That's because estrogen is stored inside body fat cells, so the more fat you carry, that's like sitting on a keg of gunpowder with a lit fuse in hand, waiting for it to blow into your face.
Let me explain some more.
So there is a difference between breast cancer brought on by hormonal changes (estrogen. No need for me to tell you estrogen and progesterone are the main female hormones. Pills and hormone-replacement therapy work on altering the level of these hormones in the body to get the desired outcome, ex prevent pregnancy in the former's case), and breast cancer brought on by genetic mutation.
A cancer is basically cells growing too quickly especially where they shouldn't. The difference between breast cancer brought on by estrogen (thus which has estrogen-receptors positive) and one brought on by genes (estrogen-receptor negative) is the development and proliferation rate of the abnormal cells. A genetic-type cancer is many times more rapid and more aggressive than one brought on by hormones.
So then we know that hormone-type cancer's risk increases the minute you go over 40 (your body preparing to go into menopause, even if that if still a decade away). Genes do not wait for you to turn 40.
Which is why having a mammogram every 3 years after 30 and yearly after 40 is not prevention enough if it happens that a genetic-type cancer hits you. With a gene-mutation cancer, a lump can develop overnight, and double or even treble in size over 1-2 weeks (it was the case for me. Between the day the lump was noticed and the 5 days after which it was removed, it had nearly doubled in size!). You can thus have your mammogram in January, the cancer declares itself in February, and in March it has already hit your lymph nodes and spread.
Then what do you do, if mammograms are not prevention enough? Simple - you take matters into your own hand, literally! No one knows your body as well as you do.
Breast self-exam is your biggest pro-active shield towards recognizing breast cancer!
Ideally, this exam should be done 10 days or so into your cycle. But it has become painfully aware, to me, that a lump will not wait for Day 10 of the cycle to happen. Carry out the exam more often than just once a month, if you can.
Now you can tell me I'm blowing hot air over genetic-type breast cancer and there is no history of breast cancer in your family. Fine - but do you know your full family history? Maybe someone had it but didn't advertise it. Maybe one of your ancestors had breast cancer in the 1800s or in the 1900s - the gene might be there, silent for generations, and then bingo, it decides you're the lucky winner for it to become activated!
The final line - better be safe than sorry! Be aware of your own health, and take your well-being into your own hands, whatever your age! Where I live, on the island of Mauritius, I was considered an anomaly 6.5 years ago when I was diagnosed the first time, at 22. Fast-forward to today, and girls as young as 13 are having lumpectomies, and at 15, malignant breast cancer that requires a radical mastectomy (where the whole breast and underarm lymph nodes are removed!), followed by aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
A breast self-exam takes 15 minutes tops, and the more you do it, the more attuned you become to your body. 15 minutes now and then, regularly, is not a heavy price to pay compared to cancer, the hours of worry, the agony of surgery and recovery, the hell of chemotherapy treatment, the torture of radiation therapy, and if you had estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer, the plight of hormonal therapy that puts you into a simulated menopause no matter your age!
Do your self-exam. Get a mammogram yearly. Get regular check-ups with your gynecologist. Breast cancer caught early has an almost 100% survival rate.
To the women reading this, I ask you to please heed my words. To the men reading this, please forward this post/information to the women in your lives (and note that less than 1% of men are at risk of developing breast cancer!)
1 in 9 women will develop breast cancer.
Nearly a third of all new cancers in women over the past decade are breast cancers.
It is estimated that 1.38 million women worldwide are/have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Please share this information (FB this post, Tweet/RT this link, post a link on your blog, print it and distribute to your loved ones).
Walking The Edge (Corpus Brides: Book One), available at the total steal-deal price of $1.99 at the NRP site. :)
Share this post, and let me know. Anyone who leaves a comment is eligible to win a copy of Walking The Edge through a random draw I'll carry out on Saturday.
Don't let me down - I beg you to please spread the word about breast cancer. You don't know whose life you could end up saving.
From Mauritius with love,