11 October 2009

Save the Tatas! or The Tale of a Survivor

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Breast cancer claims so many lives each year, though new strides in treatments are saving lives that ten years ago might have been lost.  That doesn't mean this devastating disease has been eradicated, though.

As a breastfeeding mom, I have gone from seeing my breasts as men might, as something beautiful and sexual, to seeing them as God made them to be - beautiful and made to nurture a life.  I'm not saying the two have to be mutually exclusive, and I don't believe they are.  Now that our lives are getting into a better routine and our baby is sleeping up to 8 hours at a time, I'm able to see my breasts as all that they can be, not just one or the other.  Given that my breasts are made for both pleasure and nurturing, and this is something that only I as a woman and mother can claim, I can only imagine what happens in a woman's mind when she feels that lump and hears those dreaded words, "You have breast cancer."

It was 9 years ago today that I sat at what used to be Raleigh Community Hospital with my dad while Mom had a single mastectomy.  The lump was tiny, just the size of a pea, and the cancer wasn't far advanced; she caught it early.  I literally felt like I was going to fly apart at the seams - completely explode - when I heard the news.  Throughout the months of chemo and radiation, we shared tears and laughter.  Mom's hair grew back a lovely silver which she colored as soon as she was able.  As my older daughter turned about three and started noticing that her grandma only had one of which the rest of us had pairs, Mom decided to have reconstructive surgery, which brought with it laughter over comments that only my daughter would come up with like, "Grandma, your nipple's growing back in."

Mom's journey through cancer and its resultant treatments made me aware of how precious life is, especially hers.  At the age of 27, I wasn't ready to face life without my mom, and at the age of 51, she feared that she'd never get to see grandchildren.  In the nine years we've celebrated her survivorship, she's gotten to be grandma to two beautiful granddaughters, both of whom inherited her fathomless dark brown eyes (and the older one, her, um, tendency to tell people what they should be doing).

So, women, take those tops off, lose the bras (woohoo!) and...

Do your self exams each month and if you're 40 or older, go in for your annual mammograms.  I know, I know.  It feels like running over your breasts with a car, but after the first one and you know what to expect, it's not as bad.  If you're at a higher risk for breast cancer, talk to your doctor about scheduling one before you turn 40.  Do your research and find out if you're at a higher risk or not.  Having a close relative who's had it will put you in that category.  Hormone treatments (HRT and birth control pills) carry an increased risk of developing breast cancer.  Take care of yourself.  We're the only ones who bear the responsibility of taking care of our bodies.

If you're a man and you're reading this, be aware that breast cancer also can affect men, so watch out for yourselves, too.  And encourage your wives, girlfriends, sisters and moms to do their exams.  Tell them that they're so precious to you and you want them to be healthy.  Volunteer to go with her for support, even if it's just a routine baseline screening.  She'll adore you for it!

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