It was the last day of August when my sister and I were driving home from a weekend in the mountains and we got a call from my mom to let us know that they’d found something suspicious during a routine mammogram. September was a whirlwind of tests, which confirmed our worst fears. By the time October rolled around, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month seemed like a cruel joke.
The good news is, after a year of grueling treatments that included a couple of lumpectomies, a mastectomy, chemo and radiation, my mom’s cancer is gone and she’s still here. She’s minus one breast and a little worse for wear after everything she’s been through. She lost her hair, but it grew back. The cancer did not. And that’s what I’d like the moral of this story to be.
I could talk about how scary it has been, especially for that one week when they thought it had spread and that treatment couldn’t save her. I could tell you all about the myriad of things I have learned about what kinds of things are thought to cause breast cancer (parabens, for one) and what prevents it. I could share my own fears about getting breast cancer, or even worse, my sister getting it. (Worse because she has a 4-year-old son, and also because I can’t imagine being on this planet without her.)
One in eight women will get breast cancer. That’s a hell of a statistic. In my family, of the ones with breasts at least, so far it’s been two out of six. My grandma had it too, about 30 years ago, but survived the cancer and lived well into her 80s. Who knows whether the other four of us will get it too. There’s a pretty good chance we might, but if any of us do, I know there’s a really good chance it won’t kill us.
Women survive breast cancer all the time. It’s not a death sentence. The point of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to make sure women get checked (self-exam, mammogram, digital thermography, whatever you please), because one thing is certain: You can’t treat breast cancer if you don’t know you have it.
Unfortunately, a lot of women do die of it. But with early detection, treatment and lots of support it can be beat. I know because I saw it happen to my mom, a woman whose strength of character and generous heart exceeded my every expectation this year. She is a survivor and you can be too.