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Cancer is An Ugly Word

by Jean McGuire in Family, Society, My life

(This post was originally written in January of 2015. We have since lost my feisty mom to another illness, but I still feel strongly about the importance of self-checks.)

 “Every woman needs to know the facts. And the fact is, when it comes to breast cancer, every woman is at risk”. -Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Cancer is an ugly word that no one ever wants to hear. Every woman “of a certain age” has been told to do self exams and to get an annual mammogram. We all know it, but we don’t all do what we know we should. Cancer is a bitch that does not discriminate and no one wants to become familiar with her so we tend to avoid situations that will bring her into our consciousness.

Recently my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite Mom having had a history of cystic breasts for over 50 years, the words and feelings surrounding the cysts they found this fall just felt different. There was a sense of inevitability as the biopsy was done and the results came back. It’s so weird when you actually hear the word “cancer,” even when you expect it.

Cancer is a word, not a sentence. ~John Diamond

Mom is 82 and in doing the research after her diagnosis I found that a majority of women over age 70 quit having their mammograms, they don’t think it’s important any more. As a result, women in that age group have a very low rate of survival because by the time it’s diagnosed it’s almost always at Stage IV.

The researchers found that women in their 70 and 80s were less likely to survive breast cancer than women in their 50s and 60s. Older women were more likely to be diagnosed with more advanced cancers and were less likely to be treated with surgery or radiotherapy.­-

I am very grateful that Mom’s was diagnosed at Stage I.  The family had a number of discussions on whether a 100 pound 82 year old should be expected to go through cancer treatment. In my opinion, sometimes the treatment of an illness can be more devastating than the actual illness. But it wasn’t my body or my choice. Ultimately, everyone agreed that it was Mom’s decision and no one else’s.

Women agonize… over cancer; we take as a personal threat the lump in every friend’s breast. ~Martha Weinman Lear, Heartsounds

In mid-December Mom had a lumpectomy with two lymph nodes removed. They got clean edges on the tumor and the tests on the surrounding tissue and the lymph nodes showed no presence of cancer. As of this writing, Mom is taking a break from doctor visits and appointments with the oncologist are pending. Her inclination at this time is to refuse radiation and chemotherapy even if recommended.

It is important that women know that the risk of breast cancer increases with age. Women’s knowledge of the increased risk will help to inform their health-seeking behavior. This study shows that over 50% of women wrongly believe that the risk does not vary with age.

On average, an individual woman has a 1-in-8 chance of developing breast cancer over an 80-year lifespan.The absolute risk of developing breast cancer during a particular decade of life is lower than 1 in 8. The younger you are, the lower the risk.

My stubborn little Mother kept having her mammograms and was diagnosed early. Early detection is everything. Instead of being a death sentence, this cancer diagnosis is going to be a bump in the road. The message I want to send is that it was only through a yearly mammogram that Mom’s cancer was caught so early. Please follow your Doctor’s recommendation for having your breasts checked.

If you do not have health insurance, you can try to find a center that offers low-cost or free mammograms. Contact the National Cancer Institute (1-800-4-CANCER) or the American Cancer Society (1-800-ACS-2345) for assistance. Another option is the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (1-888-842-6355), which provides low-cost or free cancer screenings for women without health insurance. –




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