It may seem odd that I, a male, chose to write this blog post on breast cancer awareness. After all, while it is possible for men to have breast cancer, we are about 100 times less likely to have it compared to women. I decided to write this post while, of all things, watching football today. While watching my beloved Chiefs this afternoon I noticed the pink accents many players and officials were wearing—pink shoes, pink wristbands, pink towels, pink whistles. These little dots of pink flashing all over the tv screen took my mind to two special women and made me think of how breast cancer has affected my life.
The first is a lady who I still affectionately call mama Deb. Mama Deb, Debbie Atkins to be proper, is the mother of TJ, my best friend since high school. When we were in high school, I spent almost every weekend at TJ’s house and mama Deb was a constant in my life. I always knew that if I was going to spend a weekend with TJ that there would be multiple meals prepared and an endless supply of snacks and drinks. Mama Deb took care of everyone in her house just like she did her own son. She really was and is like a second mom or mom away from home.
Mama Deb developed breast cancer several years ago while I was in pharmacy school. I’ll never forget that phone call from TJ and talking to him about it and about her. Her case was more severe, requiring treatment with lifesaving, yet toxic, energy zapping, hair killing chemotherapy. There were many, many tough days, but mama Deb, the stubborn woman that myself and so many others in our community know and love fought through. She survived her bout with breast cancer and continues to be in remission.
The second woman in my life to develop breast cancer is my mother. She discovered it late last year, after going in for her yearly mammogram. I remember getting the phone call from her, a few days after my wife and I came home from our honeymoon. My mom told me she got the news a couple of weeks before our wedding but waited to tell me until after all the festivities and celebration of our nuptials was over.
When she told me I was shocked and scared. For anyone that knows me knows I am a mama’s boy. My mom spoiled the heck out of my brother and me. In my eyes she is as close to a superhero as any woman to walk this earth. She not only worked a full time job as an elementary school teacher but made sure to take care of her family with all the grace and love that only a mom can do. Looking back, I know that I took for granted all that my mom did for me growing up, all the little things that seemed insignificant but now, as I’m older, add up to a tremendous effort that I can only hope to match when I become a parent myself.
Luckily, my mom’s case was rather mild with all things considered. She caught the cancer early enough to avoid treatment with chemotherapy. She underwent surgery to remove the small mass and then had about 5 weeks of radiation therapy. She is currently in remission and taking an oral medication that helps to prevent future relapse.
There are several risk factors including age, genetics, family history and more. Although there are many risk factors, many women in good health with no risk factors will develop breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that women 45 years of age to 54 should receive annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer. They also recommend that women 40 to 44 years of age can consider getting annual screenings and women 55 and older can get screened every two years for as long as they are in good health and expect to live for ten more years or longer.
I leave you all with a simple bit of advice that can help you or a woman in your life—get your recommended mammograms. Early detection often means better results for treatment and remission. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 8 women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer. It is the second most common cancer in women, behind skin cancers, and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women, leading to about 40,450 deaths a year. I am thankful that my mom has been diligent about getting screened; it may have saved her from an early death and definitely improved her treatment options. I love you mom and am thankful every day that I was blessed to have a mother as wonderful as you.