October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
When I first got the call from my doctor in early February with the diagnosis of breast cancer, I didn’t want to tell anyone. I was in shock and denial. My sister has been fighting cancer for many years and my two youngest sons lost their father to colon cancer when they were 10 and 12. In the first few weeks and months, I kept my circle very small.
There is so much that is unknown and unique to each person’s situation and desire for privacy. There are many doctor appointments, imaging, risk factors, genetic testing, decisions about surgery, and many more decisions as the weeks go by. It’s hard to share something this big and scary when you know so little but your people want to help, to stay informed and to be kept abreast (pun intended) of what’s happening and how they can be supportive.
After feelings of denial, I got angry and I even resented the pink ribbon (which ironically, I have since painted on a tree in my front yard in the rainbow colors of inclusivity). I didn’t want cancer to define me, and timing for news like this is never good. I have a new and thriving Human Resource Consulting business (AHirePurpose.com) in Granby and I have recently become the caregiver for my mom who has advanced Alzheimer’s Disease.
As months and treatment went by, I realized I wanted to use my voice to bring awareness. This is why I’m speaking up and sharing my story. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month and I’m hopeful that my story inspires and motivates women get their routine mammograms and to advocate for and understand their breast cancer risk factors. Many of us have put off routine preventive care because of the pandemic or because of fear. We can’t take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves first.
Here are some facts that I think are worth sharing:
Mammograms miss 50 percent of cancer tumors in women with dense breasts. Having dense breasts means having more connective tissue than fatty tissue. It’s the fatty tissue that helps the radiologist to see tumors on a mammogram. If you have dense breasts, your mammogram looks like a snowstorm and the radiologist is looking for one snowflake.
Connecticut was the first state in the country to require that people with dense breasts be told that they have dense breasts after a mammogram, but Connecticut was one of the last to equalize the coverage of ultrasound and mammogram for screening.
New legislation mandates that insurance companies cover diagnostic ultrasounds that are needed after inconclusive diagnostic mammograms, especially in women with dense breasts. This new legislation extends the coverage to diagnostic procedures for people of any age who find a lump or have reason to believe—from family history, medical history or doctors’ analysis—that they are predisposed to breast cancer.
Seventy percent of tumors are found from self-exam—this goes for guys too! One in eight women, and one in 800 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, breast cancer has an almost 99 percent survival rate when caught early, but a 27 percent survival rate when caught in advanced stages.
Some personal introspective that is near and dear to my heart
How do you tell your closest family and friends about a cancer diagnosis? This is a tough one. I first considered the relationship and impact this news would have. I’m a highly resourceful and intentional person, and I’m a recruiter by profession. I assign jobs. Who can best help me with personal care, rides when I can’t drive, housekeeping, errands, meals for me and my family, dog walking/breaks, work support, even a dear friend who is a photographer who helped me visually capture my journey.
Next, I used the nonprofit site CaringBridge.org to share regular updates with my circle. It’s easy to use, with options for choosing privacy settings and for various means of assistance (e.g. starting a GoFundMe, Meal Train or ordering groceries). You can add a co-author as needed.
The last 2 ½ years have proven to me how much we need each other and how shared experiences and connecting with others are vital to a happy life. Once I started sharing my story with family, friends and colleagues, the support was immediate, and I felt stronger than ever before. Everyone I have told has a story of their own survival, or of a loved one or someone who found out too late. This has inspired me to create a YouTube video about Breast Cancer and breast density: Are you Dense?
Because of early detection, I’ve got a 99 percent chance of being cured. This fact is worth restating: According to the Centers for Disease Control, breast cancer has an almost 99 percent survival rate when caught early, but a 27 percent survival rate when caught in advanced stages.
As hard as my treatment has been, it would be so much harder if my cancer were found later.
You must show up! Get your mammogram and understand your risk factors—at every age. Make decisions based on data and your personal risk tolerance.
Your family needs you.
You’re worth it!