By Linda Morgan, Quality Forum Director of Marketing & Communications
Are you seeing pink? October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and pink is almost everywhere. The color has symbolized the disease since the early 1990s, and pink ribbons are worn to increase awareness, to honor survivors, to recognize those who have died and to support research efforts.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. Needless to say, I’m happy to be a survivor and proud to wear pink whenever, wherever and forever.
Since my diagnosis, there have been great advances in breast cancer screening, treatment and research as well as in identification of risk factors and healthy lifestyles choices. Even so, the American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 233,000 women will face a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer this year and about 40,000 will die from the disease. It’s equally important to note that more than 2,300 men will be diagnosed, and 430 will die because of it in 2014.
A key message that still rings loud and clear during Breast Cancer Awareness Month is the importance of early detection and screening to check for the disease before there are signs or symptoms. Bottom line, many people – not all – can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other associations, a mammogram is the best screening tool used today to detect breast cancer. On a personal note, I really, really hope that’s true.
Living as a breast cancer survivor for many years, I’ve been a fairly compliant patient … following the mammography screening guidelines and seeing my GYN regularly. I honestly think about recurrence at some point every single day, knowing how fortunate I am to be here. I also have to admit that as the years have gone by, I’ve felt increasingly confident that the disease was in my past.
This year, I delayed my annual exam and mammogram for the usual reasons: I’m too busy, I’m feeling fine, I’m untouchable. But because October focuses so much attention on breast cancer, I knew I had to schedule my exam-o-gram. I’m glad I did, even though the results of the radiology report sent chills up my spine with words I’ve dreaded for nearly 20 years: suspicious abnormality, cluster of calcifications, further evaluation, etc.
I left the office with an uneasy feeling, but for some reason, I didn’t panic. For starters, I didn’t notice or feel any changes in my breasts or underarm area. Likewise, my GYN couldn’t detect anything via a clinical breast exam. It took a digital mammogram to pick up the small, questionable spot. And because my most recent mammograms are also digital and available, the radiologists were able to compare them and determine that this 3mm x 9mm intruder was new and warranted more testing. Quite honestly, I feel like early detection and screening may be working in my favor this time. Because of the results from this mammogram, my next step is a biopsy … and that’s another blog!
In closing, I’d like to share my personal takeaways from this “to be continued” experience:
- I’ll never postpone my annual exam/mammogram again.
- I’ll never underestimate the power of a mammogram.
- Going forward, I’ll be the most engaged patient ever.
I’ve always been a fan of mammograms, but right now, I’m a firm believer that the benefits far outweigh any fear, anxiety or discomfort I could ever encounter. If you’ve been postponing or delaying this screening for whatever reason, please, please think twice. October is a great time to make an appointment. And if affordability is an issue, many hospitals, imaging centers and breast cancer-related organizations offer free or low-cost mammograms throughout the month.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not sure what results I’ll receive next week. At best, this may be a wake-up call for me, and at worst, it may be another call to action – either way, I’m ready.
I do know that I’m a breast cancer survivor, and pink will always be the new black for me.