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Breast Cancer Awareness Month

On the Bright Side

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and once again I'm writing a reminder to get yourself checked. All of you, both women and men.

Everyone I know has been affected by some kind of cancer, in one way or another, either directly or indirectly. I'm fortunate to have dodged that bullet for myself (so far), although I have had a couple of scares. But mostly I have been in the fight with friends and family who have been diagnosed.

My mother had breast cancer twice and beat it both times, thanks to her having regular mammograms. I've had friends, too, who have fought breast cancer and won, thanks to early detection with mammograms. Finding it early is one of the best ways to combat most cancers, and breast cancer is no exception.

Another part of early detection and prevention is getting screened for the BRCA1 gene. If you have a family history of breast cancer, it is especially important. Like Angelina Jolie and now the Today Show's Jill Martin, many women have a story about carrying the BRCA1 gene. Jolie, like my personal friends, took care of it with a preventative mastectomy and are cancer free; Martin is fighting cancer now (and telling her story on the Today Show) and urging others to avoid what she is going through, as they can do with a BTCA1 screening.

The American Cancer Society now recommends mammogram screenings for women ages 45-54 every year, and every two years after that. You and your doctor can decide what is best for you at your age. If you're at high risk, testing for the BRCA1 gene may be done earlier.

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 six other acquaintances.

In the cases of my mother and friends, routine mammograms caught the lumps that proved to be cancerous before they could be felt by a physical exam. One friend was 44 when the mammogram set her on a course that saved her life (and she is still alive today at age 76). My mother was in a category of older post-menopausal women; she went on to be an 18-year survivor of breast cancer (pancreatic cancer eventually took her). No one can tell me that mammograms are "unnecessary" for younger women or "have no value" for older women.

I do know from personal experience how uncomfortable mammograms are, 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.

There are a lot of things to love about October – the little chill in the air making it time to turn on the furnace again, then the unexpected warm days of Indian summer; the leaves turning color and falling; a sometimes surprising snowfall; baseball playoffs and football season, hayrides and bonfires.

My favorite part may be all the horror movies that inundate the big and little screens this time of year, and of course the spooky decorations and Halloween type celebrations that happen right down the street. Scary times and good adrenaline rushes to get the heart going and the glands sweating.

But perhaps most importantly for all of us, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I hope everyone takes that as seriously as they enjoy the other more fun parts of October.

© 2023 Mel Makaw. Mel, local writer/photographer and author of On the Bright Side, a Collection of Columns (available locally at Tehachapi Arts Center and Healthy Hippie Trading Co.), welcomes your comments at [email protected].