Is there ANYONE who doesn’t know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink is EVERYWHERE. You can’t go into a restaurant, Target or local bagel shop without being reminded.
As someone who lives with a different type of cancer, I am going to be honest –and I hope that I won’t lose anyone with this admission. I am a little envious of the amount of attention that breast cancer awareness receives.
When I was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago, it was with a type of cancer I had never even heard of, despite Multiple Myeloma being the 2nd most common blood cancer. And while there actually IS a month to raise awareness of myeloma, I just didn’t know about it (something I’ve been working hard these past seven years to change!)
But even if I get a little pink envy, what I can appreciate about October is that EVERYONE is talking about CANCER. Sounds weird, but hear me out.
The reason Breast Cancer Awareness is so important is that it serves as a call to action for us all. According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the US, making it the second leading cause of death of women, behind skin cancer. But the five-year survival rate has DOUBLED since 1985 when Breast Cancer Awareness month was started. Why? Because there are easy ways to screen for breast cancer and early detection equals better outcomes.
Cancer being top of mind makes it harder to ignore the very simple things we can do that can save our lives.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, it rocked our world. I was a seemingly-healthy 42-year-old working wife and mom. I thought I had it all figured out, even though I was really tired and really run-down.
When my annual cough turned into bronchitis, I blamed three young children and their daycare germs. I wrote off my symptoms. I told myself I’d sleep more and work less.
When an eye infection sent me to the ER on a sunny Sunday afternoon in October, I was shocked when the doctors admitted me. I had things to do, places to be. I was fine.
It wound up I had more than an eye infection, pneumonia in fact, though we didn’t know it. Within 48 hours I was unconscious, on a breathing tube, feeding tube and had dialysis twice. My body was SHUTTING DOWN and I had been ignoring every single one of its desperate attempts for me to pay attention.
Six months earlier I had also had pneumonia, not common for someone my age. This was after having had a cough basically all winter and a few bronchitis diagnoses. When I went to see my primary doctor, he told me I was highly anemic and he wondered why. I had had anemia during all three of my pregnancies but so do 20% of all pregnant women. In fact, anemia is quite common in women – 9 to 12% of non-Hispanic white women and nearly 20% of black and Mexican-American women have anemia, as compared to 2% of men.
My point? I didn’t think it was that big a deal so I did NOTHING. Now, if I had been told one of my children was anemic or needed some type of further attention from THEIR doctor, I would have made an appointment immediately. But I was “too busy” to do anything other than pick up a bottle of iron pills at my local pharmacy.
Looking back, it is clear to me that I had Multiple Myeloma at that time. The anemia, coupled with how severely the pneumonia hit me, makes me convinced that my compromised immune system was trying to tell me something – which I ignored.
Nothing could have changed the reality that I had cancer but I regret that I didn’t address this sooner. For one thing, I would have been stronger when I started fighting.
But I thank God for the eye infection that sent me to the ER – and the calamity of things that hit me while I was there. It was my body’s way of screaming for attention – attention that I was finally forced to give to it.
Last weekend, I was out to dinner with my girlfriends. Out of the five of us, two of us are living with cancer and can relate to its destructive effects — on our health, on our families, on our hair and our confidence that we will get to see our kids do everything we dream for them.
My dear friend had been diligent about her mammograms, due to a family history of cancer. But because of Covid and hospitals prioritizing only emergency patients, she got pushed back.
Thankfully she found the lump in her breast, not using Covid as an excuse to put off her breast self-exams or wait until her next mammogram. Even still, the slight delay resulted in a Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis, for someone who was getting checked regularly. This one act could have saved her life.
As we sat together over our cocktails, we realized two of our friends hadn’t been for their mammograms for a while (another Covid casualty). But we put the pressure on them. We were NOT above waving that cancer card in their faces. We talked about how much losing our hair and having cancer sucks. We talked about how hard cancer is on families and children. We showed NO mercy…anything to give them no choice but to make those appointments.
The fact is ignoring reality doesn’t make it go away. Often times, especially in health situations, it just makes it worse. I knew something was off but figured it would all just be fine. I didn’t have time to go to the doctor, let alone be sick. I couldn’t find the time to stay healthy but had no choice but to slow down when my world came to a screeching halt.
Here’s the thing:
There will NEVER be more hours in the day.
You ARE as important as your husband, your kids, your elderly parents, your boss and your dog.
Stop making excuses and just make the appointment. Get the mammogram, get the pap smear, get the colonoscopy, get the physical, get the bloodwork.
Feel sick, tired or just not…right? GO. TO. THE. DOCTOR.
I ignored very clear & obvious signs that I was sick. I was “too busy”. I was scared of what I would hear. I put everyone and everything else ahead of my own health.
Let October be CANCER awareness month for you. Use it as the springboard you need to put yourself at the top of your To Do list and prioritize yourself and your health. You will never regret it — and it could save your life.
Until next time, #gameon