I have a new take on my annual message about getting regular cancer screenings: this summer, my sister went for her first mammogram, two weeks after turning 40, and she learned she had breast cancer. She did everything she was supposed to, and her doctors told her that a self exam would not have caught the lumps. She had a double mastectomy a few weeks ago, and is on the road to recovery.
We all have friends, relatives and acquaintances who have similar experiences. I took her news to heart, and got my (overdue) mammogram in July. My results came back normal, and I will make sure to not let too much time pass between screenings again.
My sister’s social media announcement about the surgery was a funny take about getting a boob job – it was her way of bringing levity to the discussion, and also raising awareness. In the time between her mammogram and MRI this summer, and the surgery itself, they found double the number of lumps when they did the surgery. They have since sent the cancer itself out for DNA testing, and everything came back ok to clear her from having to have chemotherapy or radiation. She will take hormone pills every day for the next five years, and she will be able to enjoy a long life with her family.
Friends, breast cancer is one of the most treatable cancers out there today. We just have to catch it early! The survival rate has gone up exponentially in the last several years. Today, incidence among men is about 1 in 100,000 people, and among women is about 131 out of every 100,000 people. Of that rate, the mortality rate for men is .3 for every 100,000 people, and for women is 19 per 100,000 (Komen Breast Cancer Statistics).
The Komen Foundation has some really good general information if you are looking for it, and obviously is the go-to resource nationally for breast cancer support and funding. The American Cancer Society also has information and recommendations about cancer screenings and when you should get things checked out. For most women, we are told to get mammograms annually starting at age 40 (as my sister did). If you have history in your immediate family, the current recommendation is to start those screenings at age 35, and sometimes women are encouraged to get genetic testing for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which could indicate a higher risk for cancer.
Even with the variety of treatment options out there, we all know someone who lost their battle, and mourn those amazing and vital people in our lives. According to the CDC, about 42,000 women and 500 men die each year of breast cancer.
Medical science is amazing, and has come so far. We do not have a cure for cancer – yet. But there are so many scientists, doctors and nurses out there who are working towards new treatment options, medication, and (we all hope and pray) a cure someday.
In the meantime, make sure you get your regular medical checkups, including screening for all the things! Whether it is breast cancer, skin cancer, or general blood work to make sure you are healthy, get your annual checks. Don’t put it off – it really could save your life.
Other reminders to take care of your health: