October is “Pinktober”, i.e. breast cancer awareness month and like most breast cancer victims I know, we hate those pink ribbons. I prefer to use the month as a platform to promote mammograms and battle the most “popular” myths of breast cancer with the truth .
The following post below was published by me on October 9, 2017, a few weeks after finishing treatment for breast cancer. In the year since then, two acquaintances have been diagnosed with breast cancer. One was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer, the other’s was caught extremely early, like mine was. One had a mastectomy, radiation and chemo, the other had a lumpectomy, no radiation and no chemo. Guess which one has annual mammograms and which did not.
GET THOSE BOOBS MAMMOGRAMMED YEARLY
*****Start October 9, 2017 post****
As regular readers know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer this past May and had taken a sabbatical from posting during surgery recovery. As this particular cancer journey has progressed, I have become increasingly aware of how much misinformation and stereotypes there are regarding breast cancer and the significant role social media and the media in general plays in hyping up fear. I see the fear flicker across women’s faces when I tell them of my diagnosis or hear the actual gasps and condolences they offer me. The words “breast cancer” strikes terror in the hearts of many. When I inform someone of my cancer diagnosis, I find myself needing to immediately qualify it by adding that it was caught very early and my prognosis is “exceptional”.
“Cancer has a language problem–not just in the way we speak about it, as a war that drafts soldiers who never signed up for it, who do battle and win, or do battle and lose. There’s also the problem of the word itself. A 57-year-old woman with low-grade DCIS that will almost certainly never become invasive hears the same word as the 34-year-old woman who has metastatic malignancies that will kill her. That’s confusing to patients conditioned to treat every cancer diagnosis as an emergency, in a world that still reacts to cancer as though it’s the beginning of the end and in a culture where we don’t talk about death until we have to.” Siobhan O’Connor, Time Magazine
One factor that has contributed to this “cancer language problem” is the media saturation of stories of women with stage 3 and stage 4 breast cancer such as actress Shannon Doherty which leaves the impression that the typical breast cancer patient is in dire straits. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, also known as “Pinktober”, the media highlights cancer patient stories, mostly focusing on the worst case scenarios. While I am not famous on the scale of a celebrity actress, my attorney claims I am a semi-public figure, and therefore I wanted to put my story out there as an example of the many tens of thousands of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, get treatment, recover and move on with their lives leaving cancer behind them. There are many thousands more of us than the celebrity cancer victims.
The other significant factor in promoting this cancer language problem is the abundance of memes presented as fact that are, at best, well-intentioned misinformation, and at worst, purposely using fear as the catalyst for fundraising. More on this later.
So, are the Shannon Dohertys really the only face of breast cancer? I don’t think so. This year, an estimated 252,710 women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and an additional 63,410 women will be diagnosed with in situ breast cancer. If the cancer is located only in the breast (an early stage of cancer), the 5-year relative survival rate of people with breast cancer is 99%. Sixty-one percent (61%) of cases are diagnosed at this stage. That’s nearly 190,000 women who will hear the terrifying news that they have breast cancer yet their prognosis is outstanding. The truly amazing news is that overall breast cancer death rates have decreased 36% from 1989 to 2012, after slowly increasing (0.4% per year) since 1975 and continues to decrease by about 1% every year.
And what is powering the increase in survival rates? Mammography. A recent study by researchers from the University of Michigan explored the question of whether mammography makes a difference in survival rates. The researchers found that since mammography was introduced, there has been an overall 9% decrease in invasive breast cancer diagnoses . This decrease has been offset by an increase in diagnoses of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), which isn’t invasive. This means mammograms are finding more breast cancers early, when they may be less complicated to treat. This conclusion was supported by a study conducted by a team of researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands who studied every breast cancer case registered in the country from 1999-2012 —nearly 174,000 cases. Before 2006, the breast cancer survival rate was 91 percent. After 2006, it was 96 percent, they reported in the British Medical Journal. Women survived longer after 2006 because the tumors were smaller when they were removed and less likely to have spread, they reported. “Diagnosis of breast cancer at an early tumor stage remains vital,” they concluded. Mammography has helped reduce breast cancer mortality in the U.S. by nearly 40% since 1990.
My final staging was pT1Mic meaning I had what is called a “microinvasion” of invasive breast cancer measuring half a millimeter amid a larger segment of Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) cancer. If I had had pure DCIS, I would have been staged at Stage 0 but that tiny speck of invasive cancer put me “barely out of Stage 0” as my surgeon said. The detection of so small a cancer is due to 3D digital mammography and the fact that I have had an annual mammogram for years which formed a baseline image that made detecting the tiny difference easier. Actress Christina Applegate champions the cause of women getting annual mammograms after her own diagnosis of breast cancer which was also discovered at a very early stage during a routine mammogram.
Delving into the online stories of women with metastatic breast cancer, I found too many instances of a lack of annual mammograms prior to their diagnosis of metastatic cancer. Shannon Doherty did not have any breast cancer screening tests for the four years prior to her diagnosis. Digging further, I found a few authors of popular breast cancer blogs whose cancer was metastatic who had also not availed themselves of annual mammograms. This may sound like victim blaming but, for me, I have nothing but sad pity for their plight. My cousin’s best friend died of metastatic breast cancer one month after diagnosis after spending years refusing to have a mammogram. Even for women 50+, skipping a mammogram every other year could miss up to 30% of cancers. The absence of breast cancer screenings due to it being an inconvenience, or that it hurts, or fear of finding cancer or a belief that mammograms are unnecessary are all personal life choices women have made but I wonder to what extent regret factors in when those choices backfire. It’s pointless, and indeed cruel, to cast blame on past decisions that cannot be changed in the here and now. There are women who still receive a diagnosis of advanced stage breast cancer despite doing everything right and having had an annual mammogram because breast cancer is a capricious disease. The reality is that an annual mammogram is a tool that is far more likely to detect cancer at an early stage and it’s sad when women decline the opportunity to use a tool that could prevent a lot of heart ache, fear and pain. GET A MAMMOGRAM, LADIES!
Dr. Google Is Probably Not Your Friend
The most difficult aspect of receiving an initial diagnosis of breast cancer is the waiting for all the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place so that you know exactly what kind of cancer you have, what the staging is and what treatment options are. For a data junkie like me, this waiting was excruciating. I wanted information NOW and sometimes looked to Dr. Google for answers. The problem with Dr. Google is that the stories of other victims are not *my* story and it was too tempting to borrow trouble, and in some cases, borrowing grief, from other people’s experiences. I think that is the danger of media stories of actresses fighting for their lives, i.e. the temptation is strong to think their story will be your cancer story. Julia-Louis Dreyfus’ recent press release announcing her diagnosis of breast cancer frustrates me because she declined to reveal the severity of the cancer and as expected, the media reported it with all the drama it could muster about her “battle against cancer” thus promoting fear. But Dreyfus’ cancer story may not be your cancer story.
Online forums populated by breast cancer victims could have the potential to be helpful but I found them to be unproductive in large part because of the self-selecting nature of those who frequently post. One long time poster in a popular breast cancer web site community forum made the observation several years ago that the people most likely to post to the forums are 1.) Newly diagnosed people who are rather hyped up and poorly informed; 2) People with emotional issues related to being diagnosed with cancer ; 3) Trolls who fake breast cancer and whose stories on the forum terrify women; and 4.) A few “angels”, i.e. people who are credible, post constructively. It took time to discern who the “angels” were amidst the chaos of emotions and factual inaccuracies people reported and I only found three people I could trust. And yes, there are evil trolls who thrill at spreading terror in a forum by fabricating the worst possible case. Googling “breast cancer scam” reveals that this is a not uncommon fraud women have done to financially exploit the compassionate.
In fact, no one I personally knew in real life with breast cancer had ever read an online forum nor ever posted to an online forum about their breast cancer. I searched but I could never find a blog dedicated to having a stage 0 or stage 1 cancer diagnosis. The reality is that many tens of thousands of women are diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer, get treatment that is rather typical and uneventful, and come through it just fine to then move on with their lives not looking backward and having never told their tales online. Patients like me do not invest considerable time writing a dedicated blog week after week, for years, about their experiences with cancer.
Forums are a self selecting population of patients who seek out this medium to express themselves, often presenting the worst cases that are not typical. There were several times I’d get frightened by something I read in a forum, ask one of my oncology team doctors about it only to be told, “In 20 years of practice I’ve never seen that/only saw it once. And stop reading those forums, Jeanne!”. One particular example was breast cancer radiation therapy threads on forums wherein posters described all kinds of problems they had from radiation. You’d think, reading the threads, that nearly all women undergoing radiation therapy have these heinous problems but the reality was much different. None of my acquaintances who had breast cancer reported those problems and my own experience was rather mundane and easy despite my anxiety that had been fueled by reading too many breast cancer forum posts. In a study published online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, most patients agreed that their initial negative impressions about radiation were unfounded. The study revealed that 93 percent of breast conservation patients and 81 percent of mastectomy patients agreed with the statement “If future patients knew the real truth about radiation therapy, they would be less scared about treatment.”
Because my breast cancer had not moved into the lymph nodes, I did not need chemotherapy but I did choose to undergo adjuvant radiation therapy that has been documented with numerous science-based research to reduce the risk of recurrence by 50%. Body position while going through breast cancer radiation treatment matters. Nearly all women undergo breast radiation therapy lying on their back. I was offered the opportunity to do radiation lying on my stomach in a prone position. Recent studies show that this new approach reduces the amount of lung and heart tissue affected by radiation therapy by 90 percent and I eagerly choose to do radiation in that prone position. I had the expected “sunburn”, parts of my skin peeled like a sunburn but I had no fatigue and no issues with lungs. Those horror stories of bad radiation were not my cancer story nor, it seems, for the majority of patients.
Are 30% Of All Breast Cancer Patients Destined To Die?
The most damaging piece of misinformation that I routinely saw bandied about on blogs, forums, news articles and even a few research articles was the alleged data fact that “30 -40% of women with breast cancer have a recurrence which typically leads to death”. Most metastatic breast cancer support groups use this statistic, often repeatedly stated in their videos, to lobby for increasing research funding into metastatic breast cancer.
The problem? There is no science-based evidence of this statistic being true.
Blogger Ann Silberman, who has Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, spent 7 months researching the origin of the “30% metastatic recurrence rate” meme. Her conclusion was that there was no citation nor study which substantiated the statistic. You can read her detailed research HERE. Nick Mulcahy, in an August 2015 article titled “The Mystery of a Common Breast Cancer Statistic” for Medscape.com, concurred with Ann Silberman stating, “A commonly cited breast cancer statistic — that 30% of all early-stage breast cancers will progress, despite treatment, to deadly metastatic disease — appears to have no strong contemporary evidence to back it up.”
I don’t think it helps our cause as advocates for women with metastatic cancer to repeat misinformation. I also think that certain groups (K*ough*omen) deliberately misuse statistics for their own purposes, stats that were never meant to be used the way they are and which are now misunderstood by everybody. Ann Silberman
I can’t begin to tell you how much anxiety this statistic caused me when I first encountered it. My very sweet, compassionate and exceptionally experienced radiation oncologist shot that one down quickly and then proceeded to tell me a story. “I fell asleep the other night watching a PBS show about singing baboons (it was actually gibbons, Dr. J) in a jungle in Pakistan. I think you need to watch more singing monkeys than reading stuff online.” In other words, get on with your life, Jeanne, it’s going to be OK. And Dr. J was right, the rate of recurrence in 10 years is between 2 to 15 % depending on tumor size and what subtype (hormone receptor status and HER2) the cancer is, according to recent research. My cancer was triple positive, i.e. estrogen and progesterone receptor positive and HER2+, which the data shows having a 2.2% recurrence rate in 5 years which is the time interval during which most recurrences are most likely to happen. But also because my tumor was so tiny, my risk of it metastasizing was “vanishing miniscule” according to three of my oncology doctors. An extensive study of 10,000 women that was recently published in early 2017 indicated that women older than 50 years who are diagnosed with DCIS (stage 0) are more likely to be alive 10 years after their diagnosis than women in the general population. Another study of over 100,000 women diagnosed with DCIS had a low rate of breast cancer death (3.3%) at 20 years among women in the study.
There are cancer victims who do have a 30%+ rate of recurrence but they have an aggressive and rare type of cancer known as Inflammatory Breast Cancer or were diagnosed at Stage 3B. Remember, 61% of all women diagnosed each year with breast cancer are diagnosed with an early stage cancer and their prognosis will be “excellent”. Even more women are diagnosed with Stage 2 and early stage 3 and still their prognosis is good. The scary numbers of “30-40% recurrence leading to death” is not their cancer story.
Whether reading a forum, or a news article, or some social media thread, you should always ascertain what the cancer victim’s “story” is, i.e. what stage, tumor size, and type of cancer it is, and what treatments they had. It’s fairly easy to get scared reading these stories until you realize that their cancer is far more advanced/larger/spread to lymph nodes or organs than yours or that they opted to not treat their cancer with conventional medicine whereas you did.
Taking My Lumps And Leaving It
One thing I was completely unprepared for was the strong advocacy of some women for total mastectomy as opposed to a breast conserving lumpectomy which I believe is largely fueled by the news media presenting stories of celebrities opting for radical mastectomies as if this was the only option or the belief that removing the breast completely eliminates all potential for breast cancer. My oncology surgeon’s recommendation of a lumpectomy is based on 15 years of conclusive research data that the survival rates for total mastectomy versus lumpectomy with adjuvant radiation therapy were identical. There is no survival advantage to a radical mastectomy for my type of cancer. I did not expect to have to defend my decision to follow my surgeon’s experienced opinion for what was best for me but it appears I am not the only person to have experienced this peer pressure. One should presume that a woman has counseled with her surgeon as to the options and then made a well-informed choice of treatment for herself rather than presuming she’s ignorant and you need to be the one who enlightens her.
It’s Science-Based Medicine All The Way For the Win
This past May, just weeks before I would be diagnosed with breast cancer, I published a blog post entitled “Etiquette of Cancer: Keep Your Quack Cures To Yourself” in which I detailed the ridiculous and offensive pressure I had received during a prior experience with cancer to cure it with unproven, even dangerous remedies. Hoo, boy, breast cancer brought out the worst of these people. I was advised to eat nano colloidal silver to cure my cancer; to not trust my doctors at all; that my cancer was due to my body being acidic and therefore I needed to eat alkaline foods; and the worst were the people who believed my cancer was caused by a bad diet and therefore I could cure it with diet alone. The latter strongly emphasizes that “you caused your cancer, you can cure it”. There is an alarming and disheartening trend to convince breast cancer patients to NOT have surgery but to cure it with any number of utterly quack remedies. I got sent URLs to videos of women claiming to have cured their breast cancer with coffee enemas, rubbing urine on their breasts, drinking 6 veggie smoothies a day and consuming a mini mountain of supplements daily. Umm, no, thanks. Given that recent studies document that cancer patients who choose alternative medicine are 50% more likely to die from their cancer than those who chose conventional treatment, I consider the promotion of unproven treatments on people in a vulnerable state to be deceptive and evil. Mind your own business and don’t offer any opinions or suggestions about treatment unless we ask you for them.
One author of a blog dedicated to her battle against metastatic breast cancer died of the disease. That alone can cause the anxiety levels in me to shoot up…that is until I went searching for the details of her cancer and how she treated it. To do so requires looking at the “About” link or searching through very early blog posts. I found that this late author has chosen to treat her high grade, aggressive breast cancer with alternative medicine. Her cancer story is definitely not my cancer story at all.
So, the purpose of this post was to, hopefully, to change the “cancer language problem”, mitigate some of the misinformation and stereotypes about breast cancer and to give people hope that a diagnosis of breast cancer, especially caught early, is not an automatic death sentence. If you are one of the tens of thousands of women diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer (as defined as being limited to your breast) each year, you are in the majority (at least 61%) of women diagnosed and your prognosis for a good, long life is very good. The celebrity cancer stories are not your cancer story.
Get an annual mammogram.
Hire the best doctors you can find (I love mine!)
Trust your oncology team of doctors if you do get cancer.
Be careful how much you read online and engage your critical thinking skills if something online scares you.
Wearing pink is optional (I don’t).
Comments on this entry are closed.
My sister just beat stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer last year. We almost lost her and it was primarily due to doctors being idiots. When she first noticed something odd with her breast she told her primary who actually told her she didn’t need a mammogram and it was nothing. My sister was 39 at the time. Months go by and she talks to her chiropractor about it because her back was hurting. He told her to bring it up again so she did. An ultrasound was done and she was immediately told to get a mammogram. Her chiropractor told her mammograms are horrible for you and WILL cause cancer. This idiot talked her out of it! When it was finally discovered it had spread all through her body and the reason her back hurt is because the cancer was in her bones and during adjusting at the chiro he BROKE her back!!! It was in her liver, back, sternum, hips, pelvis and femur. Not just her breast. The first hospital told her she was going to die and there was no point treating it. She got a second opinion down in Texas at MD Anderson. Those doctors saved her life. A few months after treatment and My sister is in full remission. She almost died several times during treatment but she fought.
I am fighting a possible malignant tumor in my adrenal gland whose symptoms were brushed off for months by my primary stating my back hurt because I’m overweight. I’m on the edge of giving up and saying screw it because of doctors.
I cannot even imagine the anguish you and your sister have gone through! So thankful that she is recovering. And please, please see another doctor! Shop around until you find one who can help you and won’t dismiss your concerns. And keep us posted on how you’re doing. Prayers going up!
My mom, 85, was diagnosed in May and underwent a complete mastectomy in June. My mammogram is scheduled for this Thursday. I will never put mine off again.
I, too, am a breast cancer survivor. Mine was caught early. I had a lumpectomy which didn’t get it all, so I had a mastectomy, followed by chemo (no radiation necessary). I had a TERRIBLE reconstruction experience with my plastic surgeon, whom I finally fired. I spent five years with just one breast, until I finally mustered up the courage to try reconstruction again. This time I found a surgeon who was able to work miracles, and I’m doing very well.
Pink used to be one of my favorite colors, until I was diagnosed. Then suddenly EVERYTHING
Dang it, somehow I hit “Submit” without meaning to! Anyway, it seemed that the minute I was diagnosed, everything turned pink. Pink ribbons all over the place. I HATED it. Still do, actually.
The thing that bothers me the most, though, about media coverage of breast cancer is that rarely is it mentioned that men can be afflicted with it, too. Those of us who have a history of it are careful to tell our daughters what to watch out for and to have mammograms yearly, but hardly anyone seems to remember that breast cancer can kill men, too.
A shout out to take all lumps seriously. Get your lumps checked no matter where they are. The lump on my left arm turn out to be primary bone cancer. Only my physio was worried and harassed me to get a dr on board. I’m glad to report I just had my 5 year checkup 2 weeks ago and I’m all clear. Now I go to annual checkups!
And know your own body!!! I felt so miserable that I became depressed and hopeless. I was having major fatigue and nobody was listening to me. I had my endo check up and asked for blood to be rerun. That is when we discovered the tumor is now functioning. This means it went from being annoying to being dangerous. And now I am facing a whole lot worse. All because nobody was listening to me saying I didn’t feel right. My pain has increased but it is what it is.
I appreciate my doctors in the UNC system. If I wanted a mole taken off, even if it didn’t appear cancerous to them, off it came. Blood in the urine? Complete tests to rule out urinary tract cancers, including kidneys. I had calcifications in the right breast in a mammo in May, more detailed tests (no biopsy) and another mammo scheduled in November. I’v never felt my doctors haven’t listened to me.
You have great doctors it sounds like. I get very frustrated and angry. They had me diagnosed with bipolar at one point and I don’t even have it…I had PTSD from domestic violence. As soon as I filed for divorce and got into therapy I did a complete turn around. Nobody stopped to ask the important questions. And now with my issue I’m experiencing…yuck. My old primary actually prescribed a weight loss drug called Phen Phen. Well my insurance wouldn’t cover it and I am so glad because I have cardiacmegaly. That drug could have killed me. He knew about it when he prescribed the drug. I switched doctors. I adored him but once I started getting sicker he just saw the number on the scale and blamed that.
Ok ok–appointment scheduled!
My mother, who passed away almost a year ago, survived two breast cancers, one cervical cancer and one stomach cancer. Her heart was what got her in the end, and that was at 87. Cancer is not a death sentence and if found early can be treated and life gotten on with. Mum very rarely mentioned her cancers to anyone outside of the family, because she didn’t see that her cancer story was a big deal. The first two times she was diagnosed, she didn’t tell us until afterwards, as she didn’t want to worry us!!
I honestly hate how everything turns pink for breast cancer. Most of it doesn’t even tell you where the money is going, but people see it and think “I’m supporting the cause!” and that’s the end of it.
Not to say it’s all a scam, but along with all the advice offered here, please folks, if you want to donate money to research, DO YOUR RESEARCH.
I agree. I understand that several breast cancer agencies also support other organizations whose causes I do not and cannot support for ethical and religious reasons. I won’t mention who they are so not as to derail the conversation. This makes it difficult for me to give to a very worthy cause as I (and others) have to wade through the ones that don’t support those other causes.
(As an aside, since I’m putting my thoughts out there anyway, I’m rather put off by calling a body part cutesy, undignified names: Ta-tas, boobies, boobs (I hate these terms especially), “the girls” etc. What are we, in junior high? Can’t we just call them breasts (or the chest)?
I was trying to rationalize waiting until next year to have my next mammo. Thanks for the reality check
If I may add on to this, for women who have a history of breast cancer in their families, getting tested for the BRCA gene mutations before one reaches the age at which they’re most susceptible (which varies depending on the mutation, so check family history) is also something worth doing. A positive test doesn’t mean you have to get surgery, but knowing you’re at higher risk than the general population can also allow women to take other precautions, like getting mammograms earlier or more frequently than the minimum advised and being extra-alert to warning signs. Unfortunately I’ve had to make the decision to put off testing for the moment because of my uncertainty regarding the American healthcare system (specifically, I’m worried that a positive test result could become a “preexisting condition” if relevant rules are repealed), but I have almost a decade and a half before the mutation that runs in my family becomes a threat, and I’ll be getting tested long before that.
Separately, the “quack cures” thing is absolutely insane-making. It seems like for every chronic or serious medical condition (including mental illness), there are people who feel entitled to shove their personal views about the medical system and their “preferred treatments” in everyone’s face. There’s a saying out there along the lines that “alternative medicine” that works is simply called “medicine”. Contrary to what many people think, doctors will in fact offer or suggest treatment other than pharmaceuticals if they have reason to believe it will actually have a positive impact. If they’re not promoting a treatment, it usually means they have a reason not to, and I don’t mean “someone is paying them”. (Yes, there are doctors out there who get kickbacks, but I don’t believe it’s as common as most people think.)
Some doctors, citing a recent study, are advocating mammograms every *3* years for women “of a certain age,” of which I am one.
I’m a little cautious about this. Your thoughts? You know alot of the science.
It depends on what “certain age” you are referring to. 30’s with a family history of breast cancer? Yes, every 3 years is probably a suitable mammo schedule. 50 and older? Nope every year. Friend of mine had annual mammograms yet was diagnosed with early stage 2 BC at her annual. Still needed radiation and chemo. Had she waited every third year to have a mammo, she’d be dead by now.
I agree that the pink totally ignores the men who have or had breast cancer. One of my male co-workers had it — it was even estrogen based, like a woman’s, he said. He went through three grueling months of chemo after surgery and really had a tough time, yet he is totally ignored by the cutesy pink and save the ta-ta’s marketing ploys.
My mother survived breast cancer, but I was always unhappy with her surgeon — she had a minuscule tumor, stage 0, no metastasis observed, and no history of cancer, yet he did a mastectomy of the affected breast plus removed a lot of lymph nodes, which turned out to be clear. She suffered with massive swelling and weakness in that arm for the rest of her life and her surgeon admitted it was due to her surgery. He didn’t trust lumpectomies, he said, and refused to do them even when indicated by other doctors. I wish she had gone to someone else for surgery.
I also wish sonograms were more routinely done, rather than mammograms. My sister had a lump (benign, thank heaven!) and was told she would need a sonogram after the lump was seen on the mammogram, because the sonogram would give them a much better picture. So, why aren’t we starting with sonograms?
Mine was too small to see on a mammogram, so they did a sonogram and lo! There it was! The place where I have my mammograms now does a 3-D mammogram, which is better, but I will always prefer to trust the sonogram.
Why aren’t we starting with sonograms? Good question.
Per the statement “Are 30% Of All Breast Cancer Patients Destined To Die?” I would lose my snark card if I didn’t point out that statistically speaking, 100% of all breast cancer patients are destined to die, as are 100% of every human beings (at least until science creates an immortality solution).
From the POV as a former cancer patient*, this is good information. I never thought cancer would be an issue – in my family, we usually go from heart attacks or strokes, not cancer, so I had no reason to worry. At least I thought that was the case until I had a canker sore on my gums that wouldn’t go away for a week. I went to my dentist and she said “oh my God” before walking quickly out of the room to confer with her colleague. (Trust me – the only person I can think of who could strike cold fear in my heart by saying Oh My God like that would probably be an airplane pilot of a plane getting ready to land). It turned out to be Stage IV oral & neck cancer. Thank God I was living in an area with excellent medical care and working for an employer offering health insurance. I don’t take those lightly – I’ve agonized over reading accounts from others who didn’t have the options I did. I lost half my upper jaw, teeth, and gums, but they were rebuilt over time from my fibula and dental implants. However, 2016, and even parts of 2017, were pretty much the worst years of my life.
I’m not writing this to say “poor pitiful me” because I know how lucky I am. It’s more to say, you never know when and where cancer will strike. It’s absolutely critical that we get mammograms, routine screenings, and that we don’t ignore those annoying little things – like the tiny “canker sore” – that show up out of the blue. (In fact, they now know that women, including non-smokers and non-drinkers like me- are starting to show up with these types of cancer because they were exposed to HOV years or decades earlier).
I’ve read pretty much every post on this site in part because you inspired me to keep going by sharing your own news. It helped (and still helps) on those sleepless nights when the choir in my head won’t stop playing their greatest hits. Hits like “Why Bother, It’s Just Going to Come Back Soon Anyway” or “How Much Longer Do I Have Before My Next Doctor Says Oh My God and Leaves the Room.” I know the answer is “there are no guarantees and it can come back,” but I also know this means I may as well use the time to enjoy myself instead of living for work.
But totally agree on the screenings.
* = I refuse to use the word “survivor” in reference to myself. My family and friends are the true survivors. I was the angry, sick, petulant, whining b**** they had to drag across the finish line, and who was wailing and moaning about wanting to die to get the pain over with faster.
Oh, hear you. My anxiety is rising just reading your comment. Cancer sucks.
You have that right! Argh, I just realized I wrote “HOV” instead of “HPV.” The good thing about the realization that I may not be immortal is I finally took a trip to Europe my sister and I had talked about for twenty years. It was the best time and vacation of my life. At least now I have one less regret if the C-word comes knocking or moves in again.
I’ve had a different kind of cancer – caught early, excision only, no other treatment needed. So even though 50 is the standard age to have a mammogram done when there is no family history, I requested to have one done at 47. It was clear. So I waited until 50 for my next one, instead of going annually. Have it done, get called back for a rescan, which isn’t unusual. Get the rescan and get called in for an ultrasound. I’m freaking out at this point! Fortunately, the ultrasound didn’t show anything of concern but they want me back in 6 months for the next one. Here’s hoping it’s clear. But if not? It’ll be caught early and my treatment will be minimal.
So another plug for getting your mammogram done as soon as you are eligible. It really isn’t that big a deal – it was uncomfortable but not painful for me and I’m fairly large. The biggest problem for me was having to go without anti-perspirent in the middle of summer!
And also a plug for colorectal cancer screening, too. Also eligible for that one when I turned 50. That one, I got ‘See you in 10 years!’ when the procedure was done.