Breast Cancer

By now we are probably all familiar with the risk factors for breast cancer. While those at high risk will want to talk to their doctors about prevention options, all of us need to realize that these are risk factors, not causes. You can get breast cancer before 30; you can be the first woman in your family to get it. No one is immune but the resources to protect ourselves are available to us all. (The links throughout this article are set to open in separate windows. To return to the article, just close the window.)

Protect Yourself

According to the American Cancer Society, “There is no question that early detection tests for breast cancer save many thousands of lives each year, and that many more lives could be saved if even more women and their health care providers took advantage of these tests.” Early detection means that the cancer is found when it is smaller. Often it has not yet produced symptoms and is less likely to have spread beyond the breast. Simply put, a three step program of monthly self-exams, a yearly physical and a yearly mammogram for those over 40 can save your life.

Mammograms and physicals have a habit of sinking to the bottom of our to-do list, usually just above “phone gynecologist.” We have a million excuses not to go. It is time to stop making excuses. Few of us blink an eye about trips to the dentist even though they can be uncomfortable and add to an already busy schedule. We all know that they are necessary to protect our teeth and find a way to fit them in. Why don’t we apply the same logic to breast health? Most likely it’s because we all know that the dentist works with everyone fully dressed. Deep down we’re all scared of the same thing. Fortunately there are resources to help us.

Examine Yourself

The easiest place to start is with the breast self-exam. An illustrated guide to the three step breast self-exam is available here. You can make self-exams a habit by requesting Breast Cancer Information free shower card. This waterproof card illustrates and explains the self exam, and is designed to hang in your shower or on the bathroom door handle. Hang it somewhere where you will see it as a constant reminder.

As good as self-exams are, their effectiveness is greatly increased when paired with regular mammograms. A mammogram can detect a tumor up to two years before you can feel it and those two years can make all the difference. Do it for the ones you love. For most of us fear is what stops us, so knowledge is what will set us free. Click here on the American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer Prevention page and scroll down to the section titled “8 Things to Expect When You Get a Mammogram” and you will find a step by step guide to what to expect when you get tested. The most comforting line in the article is this “most technologists are women. You and the technologist are the only ones present during the mammogram”. Knowing what to expect certainly helps, but having someone there with you is even better. Phone your best friend and go to get tested together. The accountability will help both of you keep the appointment and you can go for a well deserved lunch or coffee afterwards to reward yourselves for being brave.

Educate Yourself

Knowing how the tests work is a great first step, but what happens if the results come back positive? If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, education is an important step toward making an informed decision about treatment. The medical terminology surrounding breast cancer and its treatments can be daunting but don’t let it stop you from reading up on the subject. Ibreast.com along with the National Cancer Institute has put together a easy to use online glossary of terms. Including simple explanations of procedures along with the terms, this glossary is an excellent place to start and makes a great companion guide to other reading. The more you know the better you can prepare and plan for what lies ahead.

The next step is to ask questions. It is your right as a patient to be informed, so ask your doctor questions. If the explanation of a procedure or the results of your tests leaves with further questions or concerns, don’t be afraid to ask again. If there isn’t time for your doctor to give you more information he or she should know where you can go to get it. Keep asking questions until you are comfortable with what you know. There are many books and sites available with information on all aspects of breast cancer. The list of resources at the end of this article should help you get started.

Share Yourself

If someone you know is fighting breast cancer, there is much you can do. Start by being there for her, every way you can. Offer to go with her to appointments and tests, watch her kids while she’s gone, or cook her family’s dinner that night. Let her know you care about her, but respect her need to be alone sometimes. Be one of the people she doesn’t have to be strong for. Breast cancer, like any serious illness, is scary. It’s okay to cry, to be afraid, and to be angry. She will need a safe place to do these things. We seem to have convinced ourselves that weakness is a bad thing and that we have to be strong or we’ve given in, or worse, given up. This is not the case. Let her grieve, and help her to move past it in time. We are all human, sometimes the thing we need most is for someone to quietly hold us while we cry.

Getting involved in one of the many fund raising events going on this month and throughout the year is a great way to help breast cancer patients everywhere. Events like the CIBC Run for the Cure and Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day run on various days across and the . They all need volunteers as well as participants. Contact your local chapter of the Cancer Society or a local hospital to find out about events planned for your area this month and ongoing fund-raising efforts that you can be a part of.

Prevention and information are two of our best weapons against breast cancer. Being informed allows us protect ourselves, make informed choices and be a better support to our friends that are suffering.

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