In 2018, my mom was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and she just had her port removed this week (almost 2 years later due to it being deemed a non-essential surgery–thanks COVID.) I’ve been waiting for October to write this post in honor of her and share what else you can do during Breast Cancer Awareness Month other than just wearing pink. I am so proud of my mom and grateful that she is healthy today, but it was a hard road to get here.
1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. You see a lot of retailers selling pink shirts, schools doing “pink out’s,” and commercials on TV to get your mammograms in October but you don’t see or hear much about the actual journey women go on when they are diagnosed with breast cancer. This is my mom’s story.
My mom had a mammogram in 2018 (she missed her one from the previous year–she had been busy helping take care of her elderly father and didn’t get around to making an appointment) and they found a spot that looked suspicious. After getting a biopsy, it was determined she had breast cancer. The first month after mom’s diagnosis was filled with lots of note-taking at doctor’s appointments to help keep all the information straight, lots of Googling, and her doctors determining what the best treatment plan would be for her. It was very overwhelming and our heads were spinning trying to keep everything straight. We learned that not all breast cancers are the same and each person’s diagnosis presents itself with their own little intricacies and various treatment plans.
As her daughter–it was terrible watching my mom go through chemo after her lumpectomy. She continued to get sicker and sicker with new symptoms compounding as her treatments went on. We went with her to get her hair cut short (which she eventually shaved all off herself.) She was taking various medications to help with the side effects of chemo (which those meds had their own side effects too.) After chemotherapy, she went through radiation and continued immunotherapy–this was a whole year process. My mom had said at one point she didn’t even recognize herself anymore. Our family tried to provide laughter, motivation, positivity and then eventually just be there to listen and validate that yes–this really sucks.
Being sick for so long and not recognizing yourself when looking in the mirror anymore does a number on your mental health that I don’t think many people address when talking about breast cancer. Especially as women, the visible effects of going through breast cancer is hard on your body image and self-confidence. Mom had heard from other survivors that after your treatment is over, the next year would be one of trying to heal (mentally and physically) and really find yourself again and she is on that journey now.
My mom is now cancer-free but will continue to be monitored. The median age of diagnosis in females with breast cancer is 62 years old, but I’m sure you know someone who has received a breast cancer diagnosis at a young age (I know I have). About 11% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.
So what can you do besides just wear pink this October? Here’s my best advice for you from my perspective:
- If you’re a mama 40 & older–get a mammogram every year: I am 39 years old and my sister is 43 and we do not have the genetic mutation in our family, but we will be getting our yearly mammograms no matter what.
- Do a monthly breast self-exam to feel for any abnormalities (early detection is best!)
- Donate to organizations that are focused on breast cancer research or patient resources
- If you are going to purchase something pink and it says that a portion of your purchase will go back to a breast cancer organization, research that organization first.
- If you know someone going through breast cancer, just show up–drop off a meal, a Starbucks gift card, trashy magazines, offer to babysit the kids, etc.
- Check on the caregiver: My dad needed a break and some extra TLC too.
I’m sending all the breast cancer survivors (especially my mom), current patients, caregivers, and family members lots of love and strength this month and every month. And remember, there are a lot of wonderful ways for you to take action during Breast Cancer Awareness Month other than just wearing pink.