This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Bring Your Brave campaign for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.
Stupid cancer! I hate it. In all its forms… I hate it. My boys lost their father to colon cancer, and I lost a sweet friend to breast cancer. As you may have noticed, everywhere you look during the month of October you will see the color pink. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States. Many women are under the impression that they don’t need to really start worrying about breast cancer until they’re in their 40’s, but 11% of all cases of breast cancer in the United States affect women under the age of 45, and many young women do not know they are at risk.
Young women face a unique threat. When they are diagnosed with breast cancer it is often diagnosed at a later stage and usually more aggressive and difficult to treat. It is also more likely to be hereditary, so know your family history.
However, stupid breast cancer attacked my friend Donna when she was just 36 and she had no family history of it whatsoever.
After Donna had a mastectomy and a few rounds of chemo, we thought she beat it. Young and otherwise healthy, not to mention the sweetest woman you could ever meet… Of course she’d beat this. Of course! She had to!
Just when the doctors were considering reconstruction of her mangled breast, they found a tumor in the other one.
And in the chest wall.
She had another mastectomy.
Donna fought and fought and fought. She went through chemo and radiation. She went across the country from Southern California to Duke University and underwent 3 months of concentrated, experimental treatments. She left her 3 daughters, her classroom full of 4th graders, her husband, and an entire community of supporters praying, waiting and hoping.
As sick as she was, Donna had a generous spirit and an amazing faith in God. Donna openly shared her experience on a website her sisters set up.
With her intensely personal account of her treatment, symptoms, and the daily struggle, we learned that cancer is evil and malevolent.
A calculating, unrelenting illness that started in her breast, moved to her skull, her ribs, her bones.
It compromised her eyesight and forced her to wear an eye patch.
It turned her gums to tissue paper that would bleed unexpectedly.
It took her appetite and dropped her weight to double digits.
But if it took her spirit, she never showed it. She still attended her husband’s football games (He’s a HS football coach.) She still attended her girls’ sporting events. She bravely smiled through it all. She inspired an entire community. Literally, thousands of people. Through their schools and all the children she’d taught, all the friends she’d made, and even strangers who never met her but cried over her website updates.
Six weeks before she died, four of us got together for a relaxed lunch. It was a lovely day and she posted later that evening that it really recharged her spirits.
This was the last time I saw her. I’m glad that my last memory of her was a good one. I love this photo and it is one I have framed and I keep it where I can see it often.
Donna lost her battle on July 8, 2007. Five weeks after her 41st birthday. Her funeral was attended by at least 1,000 people. When he spoke, her husband said that there were three things Donna wanted for all of us:
- Think pink. Take care of our bodies, monitor our health, pay attention.
- Choose your day. Every morning when we get out of bed we have a choice regarding our attitudes and how we’ll handle the things life can throw at us.
- Pay it forward. Whatever the good thing that “it” is. Pass it on and do good in this world.
So in the month of October, when pink seems to be on everything, please spare a thought for those battling this horrible disease. Say a prayer. Donate a dollar. Donate your time. Tie a ribbon, wear a shirt.
When I do these things, I mostly do them for Donna. Mostly.
One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Whether it’s you or someone you love, breast cancer will affect you. Take care of yourself. That was Donna’s #1 request.
Keeping on top of this stuff is a bit of a nuisance, but it’s worth it. It’s also incredibly important to learn the risk factors for breast cancer. In addition to the risk factors all women face, some risk factors put young women at a higher risk for getting breast cancer at a young age.
Risk factors you should know:
- If you are under the age of 45, you may have a higher risk for breast cancer if you have close relatives who were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 45 or ovarian cancer at any age, especially if more than one relative was diagnosed or if a male relative had breast cancer.
- You have changes in certain breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), or have close relatives with these changes, but have not been tested yourself.
- You have Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
- You received radiation therapy to the breast or chest during childhood or early adulthood.
- You have had breast cancer or certain other breast health problems, such as lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), atypical ductal hyperplasia, or atypical lobular hyperplasia.
- You have been told that you have dense breasts on a mammogram.
So what does this mean? Do you need to have all of these risk factors? Just one? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages women to take three important steps to understand their breast cancer risk:
- Know how your breasts normally look and feel and talk to your doctor if you notice anything unusual.
- Talk to your relatives about your family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Use CDC’s worksheet as a guide for your conversation. https://www.knowbrca.org/downloads/FCHWorksheet.pdf
- Talk to your doctor about your risk.
Bring Your Brave aims to inspire young women to learn their risk for breast cancer, talk with their health care provider about their risk, and live a breast healthy lifestyle. The campaign tells real young women’s stories whose lives have been affected by breast cancer. These stories about prevention, exploring personal and family history, risk, and talking with health care providers bring to life the idea that young women can be personally affected by breast cancer.
Sadly, we all have a “stupid cancer!” story. Share your own story and help raise awareness about the breast cancer risk factors for young women by posting on social media on October 27th using the hashtag #BraveBecause.
I miss the people I have lost to this horrible disease. I pray for those who are fighting the battle. I celebrate those who have won their war. I hope that someday cancer will be just a memory… but in the meantime, we need to be vigilant, know our risk factors and take care of ourselves.