Ah, October. When pink takes over our view almost as much as black and orange for Halloween. As the second most common cancer among American women, conversations about breast cancer are important. And beyond the coloring of this month in pink, there are opportunities to push back against this disease. I wanted to share four ways to fight breast cancer.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
I don’t really get into the special months for various cancers, diseases or whatever. We fight these diseases year round so they should get year round attention. But I also understand the value of extra promotion and awareness of certain cancers to help encourage health, research funding and support for survivors. October has become synonymous for breast cancer awareness month so it is a good time to talk about taking care of your breasts.
One in eight American women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, with estimated 276,480 new cases this year. As an osteosarcoma and melanoma survivor, I admittedly didn’t imagine that I would ever be the one in eight last year.
My early stage 1 breast cancer diagnosis last year was, quite frankly, stunning. I felt my strongest mentally, emotionally and physically. It was thanks to an annual preventive mammogram that it was detected so early.
The more I learn about breast cancer, the more I understand how this is a challenging cancer. From hormone positive or negative to treatments varying on age of diagnosis to genetics versus no genetic family history, breast cancer keeps health care providers, researchers and patients on their toes.
However, it can be faced and beaten. Beyond the pink are several ways to face this disease. Below are four ways to fight breast cancer:
1. Pay attention to your health and don’t skip screenings.
Fighting breast cancer begins with prevention. My mantra is ‘be your own advocate’ and that means taking care of you. And your body. As I mentioned earlier, a preventive mammogram screening is what caught my breast cancer early and saved my life. Schedule that mammogram. And while breast self exams are not as routinely pushed as the past, there is still major value in knowing your body. My tumor was too small to be felt but the majority of friends diagnosed with breast cancer felt a lump. If you feel any lumps, changes or anything in your breasts, or your body in general, do not hesitate to contact your doctor. Even if you had a recent ‘clear’ mammogram – don’t ignore changes. This includes my male friends. It’s estimated that more than 2,600 men will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in 2020.
2. Vote/get involved.
Legislation can significantly impact our health, positively or negatively. Funding for research and preventive programs, access to affordable care and protecting our health rights often occur through legislation created by our elected officials. For example, the Affordable Care Act made preventive screenings, including annual mammograms, accessible and also protects people with pre-exisitng conditions from discrimination or losing insurance (this doesn’t affect just cancer survivors; asthma, diabetes, pregnancy, obesity and more have been labeled pre-exisitng conditions). Funding for research has progressed detection and treatment for this cancer and many other cancers and diseases, helping lower death rates and even diagnoses. That’s why voting is so important. It’s important to know which candidate supports these issues, including funding for research, preventive programs and more (read my “Your vote can help fight cancer” blog for more info).
3. Raise awareness of resources.
Cancer survivors can face challenges during and after treatment, including physical and emotional side effects, financial concerns, and more. There are many great organizations available to assist with these challenges. Breast cancer impacts people on a variety of fronts.
One issue is the possibility of fertility issues post-treatment. For instance, my breast cancer was hormone and estrogen positive, meaning these are not my friends anymore. I take a daily pill and monthly shot to suppress these, putting me into early-menopause and removing any opportunity to get pregnant. This is a pretty common protocol for breast cancer patients. Livestrong Fertility provides financial assistance, reproductive information and support to cancer survivors facing fertility issues.
Another challenge is hair loss due to chemo. Last year, I used cold caps to save my hair from chemo (read the blog post). This resource is still largely unknown in the cancer community (and definitely outside of that community), making it a challenge for people to access or learn about in time. The more awareness raised, the easier access for people to use during treatment. In previous blog posts, I shared a list of some of helpful financial resources, as well as other support services that may be helpful to cancer survivors.
4. Donate wisely.
It’s easy to get pulled into the pink party. And there are many great opportunities to help. Just be aware which are marketing promotions and which really support patients and fight breast cancer. With the pandemic canceling most events, many of these charities that support cancer survivors and caregivers are struggling financially while seeing an increase in requests for support services. Consider donating directly to a charity before purchasing a pink product that only shares a portion of the proceeds.
I signed up for the virtual Livestrong Challenge bike ride to support Livestrong’s programs for cancer survivors and caregivers – any donation amount is appreciated!