October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But trust me, I don’t need a special month to make me aware of breast cancer. I’m hyper aware about it this year. Twelve people I know have battled breast cancer this year. Twelve! Some I don’t know well while others - most - are near and dear to my heart: two former co-workers, my college roommate, a cousin and my sister-in-law to name a few. And of course, there are all my friends who have battled breast cancer in years past, too. It's just far too many.
Their stages vary between Stage 1 and Stage 4. Each has had to find her own path for treatment. Some opted for a lumpectomy while others went the double mastectomy route.
And one friend, Rachel... well, she passed away last month.
I've sat with one friend while she had her head shaved and shared many a coffee with a different friend, searching her face to see how she's really doing behind her smile. I stayed up late talking with yet another, holding her hand as she came to grips with her recent diagnosis. Some are far away, back in the US, and all I can do is send well wishes and prayers. With all I've felt completely helpless, wishing I could do more, but especially for those friends across the globe.
Like I said, I’m hyper aware.
The scary thing is that according to breastcancer.org, about 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. Read that again. Most people who get breast cancer don't have a family history. That's mind-blowing and not what I always thought. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations. So if you’re like me thinking that you’re good because nobody in your family has it, think again. Breast cancer can strike anybody - even men.
And so you bet this October, in particular, I have trotted myself down to get my breast squished, prodded and poked like I do every October. It sounds awful and it kind of is, but one afternoon of squishing my breasts like a loaf of bread under a gallon of milk is far better than letting cancer grow unchecked. I’m notorious for canceling and rescheduling health appointments. Not this year. Nope. My kids deserve to have a mom who stays on top of her health.
The first time I had a mammogram was on live television.Yup. Live TV. I used to be a television reporter. I was the wacky, cheerful morning reporter who was always doing something a bit crazy like driving race cars or riding an ostrich, but I also did stories about things that mattered. It was my idea to do a mammogram live, to inspire others. I remember the morning of my mammogram telling my female videographer, “Be very careful where you point that camera!” I really wanted people to know that having a mammogram is no big deal. And it’s really not.
And now, there are other tests you can take, too, like an ultrasound and a blood test even. Do them. Do them all. Do a self exam in the shower every month.
If you don't have a doctor, no worries. The American Association has a relationship with StarMed. I went there today myself and they're great. You get a doctor's consult, a mammogram and a blood test all at once. Easy.
Why does breast cancer get so much attention?
I lost two friends to other kinds of cancer this year, too. Cancer just plain sucks.
So why make such a fuss about breast cancer? Because breast cancer accounts for 12.5% of all new annual cancer cases worldwide, making it the most common cancer in the world. I know if you're reading this, you likely know people affected by breast cancer, too. We all do. The statistics are staggering.
About 13% (about 1 in 8) of US women are going to develop invasive breast cancer in the course of their life.
In 2023, an estimated 297,790 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in US women, along with 55,720 new cases of DCIS.
In 2023, an estimated 2,800 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 833.
There are currently more than 4 million women with a history of breast cancer in the United States. This includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among US women. About 30% of all newly diagnosed cancers in women each year are breast cancer.
I wish I had a little nice button to put on this story, a little nugget of wisdom – but I don't. So why write this? Because I want my friends and family to get screened, to catch it early if they have it. I want them to live, to be a survivor. It's that simple.