On the Bright Side
October 10, 2020
Right off the top of my head, I can't think of anyone who hasn't been affected by some kind of cancer at one time or another, either directly or indirectly. I haven't had to deal with it personally – knock wood – but I have been in the fight with friends and family who have. I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer, and I've lost eight other friends in recent years to other cancers, including breast cancer.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is always a time to remember those who have faced that particular battle and to take it seriously and get checked.
My mother had breast cancer twice and beat that both times, and I've had other friends who have fought cancer and won. In February, 1991 – almost 30 years ago – my friend Wendy was diagnosed with breast cancer; it was discovered in a mammogram. She had a breast removed and went through grueling chemotherapy and recovery. A few years later, her New Year's Eve party invitations read "Glad to Still Be Alive in '95" and we had one hell of a celebration that year.
In fact, I'm happy to say Wendy is still alive and kicking even now in 2020, and she's been cancer free for all these years. I know many success stories like hers, and almost all of them come with early detection; finding it early is one of the best ways to combat most cancers and breast cancer is no exception.
The argument over how often women should get mammograms – and at what age – seems to go on and on in perpetuity, but I can't state this strongly enough: I believe that through the years mammograms have absolutely saved the lives of my mother, five dear friends, and at least five other acquaintances.
In the cases of my mother and my long-time friend Wendy, routine mammograms caught the lumps that proved to be cancerous before they could be felt by a physical exam. Wendy was 44 when the mammogram set her on a course that saved her life. My mother was in a category of older post-menopausal women; she went on to be an 18-year survivor of breast cancer. No one can tell me that mammograms are "unnecessary" for younger women or "have no value" for older women.
I know, I know, mammograms are uncomfortable, but getting one might just save your life, so why wouldn't you get one as often as you and your doctor decide is right for you? There are living, breathing examples all around you of women who have had mammos and, if necessary, faced their fight – and won.
Many women are also alive today who found a lump by doing their own self-exams and didn't ignore it. I've known women whose tumor was discovered by a spouse or partner. Either way, a hands-on self-exam can be a simple life-saving technique and it can be learned by anyone; it only takes a few minutes of concentrated effort and it might save a life.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I hope everyone takes it seriously. If you are a woman, check your breasts and get a mammogram. If you are a man, do a self- examination. If you are a man who loves a woman with breasts, tell her what I said. Early detection is a critical factor in survival.
Please spread the word about Breast Cancer Awareness month. By doing so, you may help save the life of someone you love.
© Marilda Mel White. Mel White, local photographer and writer and co-owner of Tehachapi Treasure Trove, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996; she welcomes your comments at [email protected]