To me it makes no difference at all that Pinktober is over. I still spend as much time as possible giving information and encouraging people to conduct monthly breast examinations and when they fall into the age group, family history or high risk category to follow their doctors instructions and get regular mammograms and ultrasounds. It is about so much more than a pea size lump.
It is also something that I hear often that early detection does not save us and as someone who is living with Secondary (Advanced, Metastatic, Stage IV) breast cancer I could easily have jumped on that band wagon.
- It is indeed true that we need a cure.
- It is indeed true that we need more targeted treatments so that the rest of the body does not go into meltdown with each treatment dose.
- It is indeed true that we need to try to figure out a way to stop breast cancer before it begins because in Australia alone we are now diagnosing over 15,000 new cases each year
- It is indeed true that some who are diagnosed have little or no space between their primary and secondary cancer.
- Right now it is approximately 20% of people being diagnosed that will develop Advanced Stage Breast Cancer (educated guess because there are still no complete statistics being collected) and many of them will go for quite a few years in remission from their first diagnosis – I went eight years before finding out)
I suppose the point I am trying to make is that right now all we have is early detection and education to assist us. The only thing that I have noticed in the graphs is the huge increase in diagnosis and the reasonably stable amount of deaths around 2,700 each year. This has been a constant for a while now. Which means that early detection must be making an impact even though we do not seem to be reducing the number of people lost to this insidious disease.
It is easy for others to hit breast cancer organisations and try chopping them off using the tall poppy syndrome but that will never achieve anything except jealousy, anger and mistrust. Research and funding is the ONLY way we will beat this. With close to 3,000 people loosing their lives to this disease each year in Oz alone how can anyone still come to me and confidently say that no-one dies of breast cancer anymore.. You will be fine? (and yes, I have heard this more than once).
I have heard every excuse under the sun for why someone does not undertake a monthly breast check.. from it is too hard to remember to i would not know what i am looking for.
So here are a few things to help you get past all the excuses..
1. The McGrath Foundation have a fantastic phone app that reminds you to check !!! http://www.curvelurve.com.au/
3. If you are outside the screening process then get a regular check from your doctor (with your pap smear) (on top of your monthly checks) and ensure he/she teaches you how to check your breasts effectively.
4. Know that family history and genetics are only a small percentage that makes up breast cancer statistics and that it can and does happen to anyone (including men, and people under 30)
5. If you find a change do not be discouraged when you are told you are too young and it is probably nothing. Get them to prove it first!! (this actually applies to anyone with a change in their breast)
6. Remember this is by no means an exact science and with the amazing amount of variables that are involved I am sure it will probably never be, but the point is to do everything in your power to minimise the chances of cancer being found a long time after a check up would have found it.. It is the best we can do right now.
7. It is very easy to be afraid and not want to ‘know’ but 9 out of 10 lumps are NOT cancer.. So getting them checked are actually really very worthwhile. It can and does save lots and lots of worry, stress and anguish just thinking about what a lump or change MIGHT be.
All this said, I would like to share a story about a very little turtle.. Her name is Shelby and she attends hospital with me each and everytime I attend for chemo and for tests. It was recently my annual mammogram and ultrasound day and I got it all done whilst in for a chemotherapy treatment. You see I found a lump in my left breast 10 years ago, was diagnosed with Advanced Breast Cancer 2 years ago and then just for good measure my mammogram found a tiny and new Primary breast cancer in my right breast (nobody had felt it, not me, not my surgeon and not my oncologist). So as you can see there are no rules, just guidelines. I cannot imagine not finding my newest primary cancer (different and new to the others) until I could feel it.. It would have been much larger and had a potential to create a second advanced cancer in my body!!!..
Shelby volunteered to be photographed undertaking the tests and so here we go.. She wanted to show that it is not so scary and that a self check each month and an appointment each year (if you are in the screening net – make sure you know when this kicks in so you can get onto it immediately).
End result.. Mum (me) mammogram and ultrasound – gold star and all clear.. Shelby.. double gold star too.. Back next year to do it all again