Thursday, July 23, 2009

Get Your Mammogram!! Take control of your life!!

I just got my regular screening mammogram yesterday, and although it's not entirely without pain for me (especially after my surgeries!), I can't ever imagine postponing it, or thinking that I'll forgo it "this time". And neither should you...
My mammogram in 2007 SAVED MY LIFE, and caught my invasive breast cancer long before it could even have been felt by a physical exam. My cancer hadn't spread to my lymph nodes, but if I had waited another 6 months or a year to be screened, this might not have been the case, and my chances for survival would not be as favorable. Because my cancer was found early, I didn't need chemotherapy, just radiation; another positive aspect of regular screening.

And, my cancer was found on a non-digital mammogram, for those of you who have doubts about the effectiveness of didn't show up on an ultrasound or on a MRI at all!

I have worked in healthcare since 1980, and I have seen the tragic results of women's fear of cancer preventing them from being screened. It's not necessarily a question of being without medical coverage, as many people suppose is the case. Sadly, even when mammograms are offered at no cost, many women choose the "avoidance" approach, because they're so afraid to find out their breast health status. Even more tragic, when the same women later present with symptoms, it's much more serious, and may be too late: their cancer has now advanced to their lymphatic system, and possibly to other organs, such as their lungs, bones, and brain.

Please, do this for you, for your loved ones, your friends - take action, and get a mammogram! Don't wait until you find a lump or see something that doesn't look right. Face your fears, and get screened. I know it's scary; I'm a cancer patient, and I still think of the possibility of a new cancer being found. But, I'd rather find it earlier than later - wouldn't you?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Two Years Later

Today, it has been two years since I was diagnosed with cancer.

Some days, July 10, 2007 seems long ago; but, even now, I can acutely remember exactly how I felt at the moment I found out that my life would be changed forever.

What are my thoughts on this 2-year anniversary of being a person with cancer?

First, I'm truly thankful for being alive, and for the caring and expertise of my physicians, techs, nurses, and medical assistants. I literally wouldn't be here on this earth without you, and I am forever grateful.

I now know that I'm an extremely strong person, mentally, emotionally, and physically; far more than I ever would have realized prior to my illness. I wouldn't wish what I have gone through on anyone; but I am heartened by the fact that I was able to face it, and persevere. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger; or to put it another way, you will discover your real level of inner strength when you can endure things that you never imagined you could.

Things which formerly would have seemed like a problem now are very insignificant; and things which would have terrified me no longer seem frightening. Cancer has a way of resetting your perspective on the world. As I have written elsewhere, you realize that life is truly about "the little things".

The unfairness of Fate is not easy to accept sometimes. Before this experience, I had never been seriously ill. While I know I'm lucky to have been healthy for so long, it was a major blow to my psyche to have this happen. You feel betrayed by your body somehow. I exercised religiously, never smoked, had good health habits, and boom! - this happened.

My greatest joy in life is the unfailing love and support of my best friend, who is also my husband. He cared for me when I was ill, and he is my hero and protector. When I look my worst, he still tells me that I'm beautiful. There is no greater love that I could ever hope to have. All that I want is to grow old with him, and I believe that I will get my wish.

There are now many other people in my life who have opened their hearts to me. Everywhere I go, I am constantly reminded of the love that I have been given, which is an amazing thing; this is one of the "pluses" of my situation.

I don't fear death, and I can't imagine wanting to live forever; that seems like a terrible fate to me. The important thing is to see beauty in each day, and to live in the present.

I don't worry about my cancer returning; I'm concentrating on what's happening right now, and on my healthy future. Two years later, I am in a very good place.

I have vowed to take something negative and turn it into something positive.

I know that even if I become ill again, cancer may take my life, but it will never claim my smile; because then it will have truly won, and I won't ever allow that to happen.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

An Army of Women

Today, I joined an army: the Love/Avon Army of Women.

The goal is to recruit one million women of every age, ethnicity, and breast cancer risk/status to be available for participation in research studies. The focus of the studies is to learn how breast cancer begins, and then seeing what can be done to prevent it. We have been very successful in finding breast cancer at its earliest stages (my tumor was 2mm, and appeared only as a cluster of microcalcifications (white spots) on a mammogram). Now, we need to go one step further!

So, why not have actual women (instead of lab mice) volunteer to partner with researchers examining the cause(s) of breast cancer? It is a real opportunity for myself and others to take action and change lives. Women who join the Army are e-mailed about studies that need volunteers, and women who match the study criteria respond to the initial e-mail if they're interested in participating. Responding doesn't ensure participation, as all possible candidates must be screened. No one can be forced into joining a study; it's purely voluntary.

Dr. Susan Love is an eminent breast surgeon and author. I read "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book" before I was officially diagnosed, and I learned everything I needed to know about what I might possibly face as a breast cancer patient. I have immense respect for her dedication to the cause, and this blog has a link to her Research Foundation's informative and helpful website. So, when I found out that she was the force behind this movement, I wanted to be a part of it.

Currently, almost 300,000 women have signed up at the Army of Women website. Just click on the widget at the right of the page to check it out and read about your chance to participate in the effort to prevent breast cancer from ever happening. I know that I would like to do whatever I can to ensure that its days are numbered. This is a real chance for "average" women to really make a difference in others' lives.