Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tidbit Tuesday: Breast Cancer Awareness!

Common stuff most women (usually over 30) know about breast cancer:
  • It happens after you turn 40.
  • It happens after menopause.
  • If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, get yourself checked.
  • If you're on the pill, the risk for breast cancer increases.
  • Have a mammogram every 3 years after 30, yearly after 40.
  • To have breast cancer, there needs to have a family history of it.
All of this is true, to a certain extent, but this is just the tip of the iceberg where breast cancer is really concerned!

I knew all about these aspects of breast cancer. Hadn't heard about them but read about them online (thanks to newsletters of women-oriented sites like iVillage.com and sofeminine.co.uk). I'm also one of those anal 'patients' who reads all the literature about any drug I take, thus I knew there was a risk when taking the pill because I read that small sheet with the kill-your-eyes small font.

I thought I knew. I thought I was covered. I thought I had time (I was in my early twenties).

How wrong I had been! It took me finding a solid, golf-ball sized lump in my left breast to drive it all home. I had celebrated my 22nd birthday a week earlier. That's when I fell on any information about breast cancer I could find, and helped along by my terrific oncologist answering my every nit-picky question, I found a picture that is most of the time hidden.

Let's take some of those common knowledge stuff listed above.

It happens after 40.
Not necessarily. It depends what type of cancer - estrogen-receptor positive or estrogen-receptor negative (more on that in a minute). Most women are more at risk of the estrogen-linked cancer than the rest.

It happens after menopause.
Again, largely due to the estrogen receptor. A big catalyst of the 'after menopause' debate is the use of Hormone-Replacement Therapy.

If there's a history of breast cancer in your family, get yourself checked.
Only too true! Breast cancer in the family is the genetic type of cancer, the one that gets passed on through genes. A mutation in specific genes, BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, is responsible for the cancer triggering. And these don't heed age - they won't wait until you're over 40 to strike! (as it was the case with me).

If you're on the pill, the risk for breast cancer increases.
True - but again this is the estrogen-receptor positive type of breast cancer that comes into play.

Have a mammogram every 3 years after 30, yearly after 40.
True - prevention is better than cure. But a mammogram is not prevention enough, not even yearly, at any age! I'll tell you why shortly.

To have breast cancer, there needs to be a family history of it.
Yes, and no. Furthermore, do you know your whole family history?

Let me explain some more.
So there is a difference between breast cancer brought on by hormonal changes (estrogen. No need for me to tell you estrogen and progesterone are the main female hormones. Pills and hormone-replacement therapy work on altering the level of these hormones in the body to get the desired outcome, ex prevent pregnancy in the former's case), and breast cancer brought on by genetic mutation.

A cancer is basically cells growing too quickly especially where they shouldn't. The difference between breast cancer brought on by estrogen (thus which has estrogen-receptors positive) and one brought on by genes (estrogen-receptor negative) is the development and proliferation rate of the abnormal cells. A genetic-type cancer is many times more rapid and more aggressive than one brought on by hormones.

So then we know that hormone-type cancer's risk increases the minute you go over 40 (your body preparing to go into menopause, even if that if still a decade away). Genes do not wait for you to turn 40.
Which is why having a mammogram every 3 years after 30 and yearly after 40 is not prevention enough if it happens that a genetic-type cancer hits you. With a gene-mutation cancer, a lump can develop overnight, and double or even treble in size over 1-2 weeks (it was the case for me. Between the day the lump was noticed and the 5 days after which it was removed, it had nearly doubled in size!). You can thus have your mammogram in January, the cancer declares itself in February, and in March it has already hit your lymph nodes and spread.

Then what do you do, if mammograms are not prevention enough? Simple - you take matters into your own hand, literally! No one knows your body as well as you do.
Breast self-exam is your biggest pro-active shield towards recognizing breast cancer!
Ideally, this exam should be done 10 days or so into your cycle. But it has become painfully aware, to me, that a lump will not wait for Day 10 of the cycle to happen. Carry out the exam more often than just once a month, if you can.

Now you can tell me I'm blowing hot air over genetic-type breast cancer and there is no history of breast cancer in your family. Fine - but do you know your full family history? Maybe someone had it but didn't advertise it. Maybe one of your ancestors had breast cancer in the 1800s or in the 1900s - the gene might be there, silent for generations, and then bingo, it decides you're the lucky winner for it to become activated!

The final line - better be safe than sorry! Be aware of your own health, and take your well-being into your own hands, whatever your age! A breast self-exam takes 15 minutes tops, and the more you do it, the more attuned you become to your body. 15 minutes now and then, regularly, is not a heavy price to pay compared to cancer, the hours of worry, the agony of surgery and recovery, the hell of chemotherapy treatment and the torture of radiation therapy!

Do your self-exam. Get a mammogram yearly. Get regular check-ups with your gynecologist. Breast cancer caught early has an almost 100% survival rate.

I wrote today's post as part of the WOW-Women on Writing Blanket Tour for Healing with Words: A Writer's Cancer Journey by Diana M. Raab, MFA, RN
The book includes Diana's experiences, reflections, poetry and journal entries, in addition to writing prompts for readers to express their own personal stories. A survivor of both breast cancer and multiple myeloma, Raab views journaling to be like a daily vitamin--in that it heals, detoxifies and is essential for optimal health.
Diana, the author of eight books, spent 25 years as a medical and self-help writer before turning to poetry and memoir. She teaches creative journaling and memoir in UCLA Extension Writers' Program.

If you comment on today's post you'll be entered to win a copy of Healing with Words: A Writer's Cancer Journey. To read Diana's post about breast cancer and a list of other blogs participating in Diana's Blanket Tour visit The Muffin.

From Mauritius with love,



Monique DeVere said...

Thank you for such an informative post, Zee! I do self examine but perhaps not as often as I ought to. Thanks for reminding me!!


Bronwyn said...

Do you know what?? Sometimes it really sucks to be a woman! I know men get breast cancer too but women seemed to be lumped with so many shitty diseases and conditions. As if having severe endometriosis wasn't enough, now I'm getting closer to the 'age' of mammograms :( Well, maybe if I didn't have breast implants =)
Thanks for all the great info, Zee! It's really important for young people to hear that it could happen to them too not just women nearing menopause or grandmothers. I'm literally peppered right now with pink ribbon stuff all over my work jumper, bracelets, etc. I attended a morning tea and have one more dinner/night in to go and I'm so proud that I could do my little bit to help find a cure. Maybe one day, it might be one less worry for my daughters...


Unknown said...

Zee, this is such an eye opening post. I realize I need to self exam much more often and I hate to say I never had a mammogram. I'm almost ashamed by it - but I will endeavor to self exam more often. As far as genes are concerned - I know my grandmother developed breast cancer at age 82! Thank you, thank you, thank you for this wonderful post. It is very sobering. Nat x

Joanna D'Angelo said...

Excellent post Z! You've enlightened me- I had no idea that genetic based breast cancer was more aggressive than hormone-based cancer. Thank you so much for sharing and for your strength and courage. It must have been a lot to deal with at such a young age. Well, it's tough at any age - but to have to go through that bodily change in your early 20s - must have been a challenge to say the least. Take care! Jojo

Cait Reynolds said...

Thank you so much, sweetie, for sharing this important information!!! Loves to you...

Rebecca Royce said...

Z-So eye opening and important!

Sheri Fredricks said...

I learn (or perhaps re-learn) something every time I read up on breast cancer & awareness. Hormone replacement therapy was something I didn't realize would come into play. Thankful that I have time before that day arrives, I hope to have educated myself better.

God bless you!

Sandy said...

Thank you, Zee. Very informative.

I have several kinds of cancer in my family and breast cancer is not one of them. But like you say, I may not know my whole family history.

BL Bonita said...

Thanks for this informative post, Z. I'll have to crack my knuckles and start self-examining more often!

Take care, hun.

Bon xo

Zee Monodee said...

You're welcome, Monique. If this hadn't happened to me, I never would've believed the need for self-exam was so vital. It's such a little thing that can have enormous rewards.

Hugs back!

Zee Monodee said...

Lol, Bronwyn! Yeah, on some days, being a woman is a b*tch. Sorry to hear about the endometriosis (another obscure woman's health condition!).
I think that's the biggest issue with the fight for breast cancer awareness - young people think it cannot happen to them. Heck, I was one of those. I knew it ran in my family but I always thought it happened after 40.
Hopefully one day in our children's time, breast cancer will be a commonly treatable occurence as pneumonia!

Thanks and hugs!

Zee Monodee said...

Don't feel bad about never having a mammogram. The important thing is that once you become aware, you take your health into your hands and do what is necessary. I cannot stress the importance of self-exam!

Zee Monodee said...

Hey Jojo
Lol, you know what? My first idea for this post was to talk about self-image issues after breast cancer. It's true that this is something that attacks what practically makes you a woman in your eyes and those of the world (men, more precisely, *grin*). Yes, it's not easy, at any age but much more when you're in your twenties and have just really 'come into your own body', so to speak.
Then I realized talking about self-image would be a rant on my part, not helpful at all! While awareness of the real breast cancer deal could contribute to help and enlighten more women out there.
Glad to note at least a few women got to read this post and get better acquainted with the real truth of breast cancer.

Zee Monodee said...

Loves back, Cait, my super trooper and super survivor!
Glad if my words could help even one woman out there.

Zee Monodee said...

Thanks Rebecca. I'm glad I got to contribute a little towards awareness.

Zee Monodee said...

Hormone-replacement therapy's role in the increase of post-menopausal breast cancer was a big, big deal a little while ago. I read about it thanks to a breast cancer awareness newsletter, and I wonder whether more women (who didn't get that newsletter or weren't on the lookout for breast cancer news) were even made aware of it.
Still, the best course of action is to always, always talk with your doctor about any treatment or medical course of action. Knowledge is empowerment!
Thanks for driving by. Big hugs!

Zee Monodee said...

Awareness and knowledge mean empowerment.
Thanks for commenting. Hugs

Zee Monodee said...

Hey Bon
Good to see you over! Yup, self-exam is the way to go. It's a really small, small price to pay for peace of mind.

Diana Studer said...

Mauritius? Then we are not so far apart, both down south.

I have blogged about my sister who had breast cancer at 24. We have the family history, but I was 44 when it hit me. We are all survivors.

Zee Monodee said...

Hi Elephant's Eye!

Yup, not that far apart! I have a special link with South Africa as I'm doing my degree with UNISA.

I will check your blog. Yes, we're all survivors. Breast cancer changes our lives but most of us choose to use it as a catalyst to get the upper hand on life!

Thanks for coming over and commenting.