Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's October aka Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

by Zee Monodee

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).

And since this is the Noble Authors' Blog, I've been told I can also take the opp to shamelessly promote my Hot New Talent NRP release, the romantic suspense title 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,

Zee

32 comments:

sarahballance said...

Wonderful information, Zee. And I'm so happy to hear you've beaten this and have become such a strong advocate. I'm off to share the news--some of which did come as a surprise to me. Thank you so much for posting!

Angeline M. Bishop said...

Great post. I've let all of my followers know there's a lot we can do to support efforts to find a cure and to make sure every women has access to regular mammography screening.

Thanks for letting me know,
---
Angeline

Rebecca Royce said...

Thanks for doing this. I'm going to share this everywhere.

christine warner said...

Great Information Zee...my sister is a mammogram tech and I'm sending this link her way. This is full of wonderful information that I think so many people overlook because it's a disease that isn't something you can see outright, but more hidden.

Thanks for sharing your story and your insight.

Tracey said...

Having a family history of breast cancer does not necessarily mean you have the BRCA gene. I have breast cancer, have a family history of breast cancer, but I don't have that gene. People who do have that gene mutation are very likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer and are advised to be much more aggressive in their prevention methods.

More and more women under 40 (like me) are developing breast cancer, many even in their 20s, so it's advisable to do as much prevention as necessary as early as possible. And while breast exams are very useful, some cancers are found before they can even be felt (again, as mine was), which is why mammograms are so important.

Thanks for sharing this information.

museampoule said...

Great post Zee. I learned a lot. :) I wish you good health and many more cancer free years ahead!
~Renee

Lynn Spangler said...

Excellent, information filled blog post, Zee. So glad you beat this not once but twice. I'll definitely spread the word!

Martha Ramirez said...

Thank you so much for this, Zee!

Zee Monodee said...

Thank you Sarah! Glad if the info was helpful. :)

Zee Monodee said...

Thanks Angeline! The more people who know what to expect, the better. And you're right - there's so much we can do to work towards a cure and even towards prevention :)

Brenda said...

Excellent advice, Zee. Thanks for posting. I'm going to give myself a breast exam.

Zee Monodee said...

Much appreciated, Rebecca! Thank you! xo

Zee Monodee said...

That's awesome, Christine! Thanks for sharing. Yes, this is a hidden disease, and society has a way of making cancer victims shy away from talking about it as if it's something you should be ashamed of. That's the real shame, unfortunately.

Zee Monodee said...

Tracey, it seems you have beaten the dratted disease too - kudos!

Yes, not all family history means you have the gene mutation. If genetic testing is available, I say: make the most of it!

And yes again - more and more young women are being diagnosed. I was 22 the first time, 27 the next, when the lumps happened.

Thanks for dropping by and commenting! :)

Zee Monodee said...

Thank you Renee! if I've helped just one woman with this info, I'd consider it a win. :)

Zee Monodee said...

Thank you Lynn! xoxo

Zee Monodee said...

And thank you, Martha! *hugs*

Angela Guillaume said...

Zee, this is incredibly informative stuff. Scary, but there's nothing better than being as prepared as one can possibly be. Kudos to you for facing it all head on and keeping your spirits high. That, coupled with knowledge, is a powerful fighter!

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

Wonderful and informative post, Zee! My heart goes out to all those who suffer this terrible disease and their families.

Doris O'Connor said...

Brilliant post, will share this wildly!

Jessica Subject said...

Great information to know! Thanks for sharing. I'm about to do the same.

Oh, and I've already read Walking the Edge and LOVED it! :)

Zee Monodee said...

Brenda, that is definitely the thing to do! Thanks for dropping by :)

Zee Monodee said...

Thanks Angela! Knowledge is the biggest weapon. Better be armed than clueless, and sorry. :) xoxo

Zee Monodee said...

Thank you Jennifer. I shudder every time I hear someone I know has been diagnosed with cancer, and it's amazing how more and more people are coming down with all forms of the disease lately.

Zee Monodee said...

Thank you Doris! Much, much appreciated! *hugs*

Zee Monodee said...

Thanks Jessica - both for coming over and sharing, and for reading the book. You rock :)

J.S. Wayne said...

Hi, Zee!
One of the scariest things about breast cancer is that it can be so insidious and come on so suddenly. I have a lot of women who are very near and dear to me and I pray that they manage to beat the 1 in 9 odds and live long, healthy, happy lives.
Congratulations on making it through such a horribly traumatic experience; I hope that you continue to not only survive, but thrive!

marybelle said...

It's very important to spread the word. I have friends who have been through just such an experience.

marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Kelly L Lee said...

Wonderful Post Zee. I pretty much live in fear of breast cancer and am so inspired by survivors. Thanks for the reminder on prevention.

Zee Monodee said...

Thanks JS. Yes, indeed - what's scary about cancer in general is that it seems to just happen. I pray for the day when they develop a vaccine for this disease. But everyday, research moves on ahead to bring better and more efficient treatment, upping chances of survival, and there's at least that.
In the past, a diagnosis of cancer, even breast cancer, was a ticket to death. Fortunately, it is no longer so!

Zee Monodee said...

Thanks for dropping by, Marybelle (what a beautiful name!).

Yes, it is so, so important to spread the word. I cannot stress that enough!

Zee Monodee said...

Thanks Kelly. Prevention is a turning stone in the fight against breast cancer - I just wish all women would heed this.