Monday, April 14, 2014

Raising Awareness

There's been a rash of silly Facebook statuses recently ranging from $7000 scratchy wins to subbing socks for toilet paper--I finally came to the bottom of the weirdness a few weeks ago when a friend explained to me that it's some sort of breast cancer awareness campaign for 2014. It's been stewing in my mind since that time and my thoughts have only grown as I see more of the culprit statuses. Not to be rude to those of you who have participated in the "campaign," but I have to admit that I'm very put off by the idea; I'm honestly not sure what good it does to raise awareness in that way. I mean, we all know breast cancer exists, right? Do we need reminders from obscure posts? And what does it mean to raise awareness anyway? Is it a way of poking your neighbor and saying, "Hey, don't forget--breast cancer is a disease that a lot of women struggle with." Um...I think we know that--what purpose does that conversation serve? What can we do to really raise awareness for something that costs lives and puts many women through months or years of grueling treatment?

In the course of my cancer journey, I've had a lot of people tell me that I'm too young to be going through this. At first, I appreciated the sympathy, but now it just seems a little odd to me--obviously I'm not too young, because it happened. And it's been a strange and surreal journey with no doctors being able to give me a satisfactory reason for why it happened--I had absolutely no genetic predisposition and none of the typical risk factors beyond a high level of stress. And so here's where the real awareness comes in, friends--any woman currently reading this blog could find herself in my shoes some day. It can happen to any of us. I don't want to freak anyone out by saying that, I just honestly wish that I had known it could happen to me. Because if I had known, then maybe I would have done something about it much sooner. That, my friends, is awareness. And while I don't want to consider myself an expert or an authority on all things breast cancer related, I do want to offer a couple suggestions on how we can be aware and make a real difference.

Perform Self Exams
I hope this section isn't awkward for my readers, because before being diagnosed (and even shortly afterward), I never would have dreamed of discussing something like this in a public forum. Somehow, the shyness leaks out after repeated exams and discussions with a panel of doctors. Anyway--here goes nothing...

Mammograms aren't usually recommended for women under 40, so where does that leave the unfortunate young souls like myself who are still at risk for breast cancer? Well, I want to tell all young women out there that they need to be performing regular breast self-exams. Because you know what? I never did--not once. And maybe many of you are wiser than I was, but perhaps you are similar to me. I vaguely remember a seminar for ten-year-old girls where they talked to us about breasts and menstruation. I think exams were probably mentioned. Of course I thought it was silly and embarrassing and wouldn't have dreamed of doing it. I was increasingly aware of the idea as I got older, but I still dismissed it as unimportant. I mean, what woman in her twenties is thinking about getting breast cancer? Honestly, it's now the biggest regret of my life. If I had been more aware of my breasts, I could likely have saved myself a few months' worth of treatment instead of feeling like an idiot when the doctors discovered a hugely swollen tumor that had been ballooning inside my chest for at least several months. Please catch it early, girls--the full treatment plan that I've been subjected to is not a lot of fun. And I was beyond blessed that the tumor still stayed localized in spite of its size and other characteristics--not everyone will have that same outcome. This disease can kill even young women--don't mess around with it.

Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure
If you aren't already familiar with the Susan G. Komen foundation, it's an organization dedicated to raising real awareness and funding research grants to better understand treatment and prevention of breast cancer. Each year, the foundation has a 5k run/walk that raises a lot of money for their cause. I believe that every state has a race attached to the foundation, and I'd invite you to look up information for your local run and to sign up for it this year. The one in Utah is on May 10th, and you can sign up for $35 right now as well as pledge to raise further funds to benefit breast cancer research. Run it for a friend or a family member who has been affected by breast cancer. Run it for yourself in an attempt to contribute to research that could save you someday. Run it for me, if you really want to. Just know that contributing money to the foundation and participating with people whose lives have been hurt or maybe miraculously helped by breast cancer is something that truly matters. I dearly want to participate in the run myself, but because of where it falls in relation to my last chemo treatment, I'm not sure if I'll be well enough to make it--even walking. So maybe I will be a little selfish and reiterate asking you to run it for me. :)

The Bassett Foundation
Shortly after my diagnosis, my dear cousin created a foundation that he'd been thinking of starting for a number of years. His own father passed away from colon cancer a few years back, and my cousin created the foundation in an effort to help defray the costs associated with cancer treatment. It's not exclusive to breast cancer, as my other two recommendations are, but it's a wonderful foundation that could truly bless many lives. They will also be having a 5k/10k on June 14th for all of the Utah folks. I'm hoping to be well enough to actually participate in this one! Please check out the site for more information on other ways to contribute.

So there it is--my two cents' worth of breast cancer awareness advice. Be aware that it can happen to anyone and be aware that while survival rates for breast cancer are typically quite good, treatment for cancer stinks. Beyond that, once you've had cancer, it has a way of lurking in the background of your life for a number of years--there's no way around it. And whether you're diagnosed at a stage one or a stage four, it's a scary thing to live with. So while I can't save anyone from getting cancer in general, I hope this post generates some ideas on what we can do to really campaign against breast cancer in 2014. There's something out there that can prevent cancer from happening, friends. Let's try to find it.


6 comments:

  1. I think you still look beautiful. :)

    Thanks for the link to the races! I've always wanted to do one but have always avoided the idea of running. I will try and do one this year for both you, my mom, and for me. :)

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  2. Thanks for sharing this side of cancer. Prevention is the best cure out there and it's a large part of The Bassett Foundation's mission.

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing this Donna, what a good reminder to be aware of our bodies and to remind all of those around us! I so admire you and your faith, strength and courage through all of this!

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  4. I have seen signs for the HALO test in my last two OB/GYN's offices. It's supposed to be a test for breast cancer that's recommended for those who are well under the age they start recommending mammograms. But I haven't really looked into it beyond that. Have you heard of it? If so, what do you think?

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    1. You know, I hadn't heard of it before you posted this, but I took a look just now--it sounds awesome!! It looks like it isn't covered by insurance, but hey--if it can lead to early detection and determine if you are at risk for developing cancer, then I think it's worth it.

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