As October and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month draw to a close, people need to remember that awareness should be a year-long affair.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of NBCAM, which is a cooperative effort between national public service organizations, professional medical associations and government agencies. The goal is to disseminate information and educate about breast cancer and its effects.
About 1 in 8 women, about 12 percent, will develop breast cancer. In 2011, doctors estimated 288,130 new cases would be diagnosed. Of this figure, around 7.2 percent will die. However, death rates have been decreasing since 1990 due to treatment advances, earlier detection through screening and increased awareness. Men are not immune, although a man’s risk is estimated to be 1 in 1,000.
Often there are no outward signs of breast cancer. The most common ones include a lump, an area of thickening, or a dimple in the breast. Less common signs include breast swelling and redness or an enlarged underarm lymph node. Any one of these symptoms should be checked by a doctor, but remember not all lumps turn out to be cancerous.
Breast cancer does not only affect the sufferer, it affects the entire family. State Sen. Tim Jennings has had firsthand experience. “Breast cancer has been an evil villain in my life. My grandmother had breast cancer. My mother got it in 1976. Then my wife died of it. … Breast cancer is a viscous disease. It can devastate a family.”
Jennings received a lot of encouragement and support. “I wish she was here … but my wife and I were blessed. Going through the experience we met many wonderful, wonderful people. Help came from where you’d least expect. An example is Nancy Miller, the owner of Roswell Home Stores.
… My daughter has celiac disease. She needs a special diet, and this little lady cooked for her when we were gone.”
He praised the medical staff in Roswell. “… we learned the doctors we have here in Roswell really know what they’re doing.”
Jennings offered reasons for hope. Not all women die. “My grandmother and my wife are dead, but my mother is still alive. She beat it. She’s in her 90s and still going.”
Support is out there for the sufferer, for the family and for the cause. A number of organizations are involved in Awareness Month. The list of professional medical associations includes the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Radiology, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the National Medical Association, the American Medical Women’s Association and the Oncology Nursing Society.
Many nonprofits provide support and information — from the American Cancer Society, the Prevent Cancer Foundation, AstraZeneca Health Care Foundation, to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Komen is the largest and most well known. It is a grassroots organization that holds races for life and funds research grants. It was named after a 33-year-old woman who lost her 3-year-battle after nine operations, three courses of chemotherapy and radiation.
CancerCare helps individuals and families cope with the emotional and practical challenges arising from cancer. Men Against Breast Cancer is the first national non-profit to provide support services to educate and empower men as caregivers and help men cope with the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Financial assistance is available for low-income families from some of the nonprofits and the federal government. The government agency to contact is the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Meanwhile the National Cancer Institute, based in Bethesda, Md., is the government’s lead agency for cancer research and education.