“About 40,610 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2017 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.”
One in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer. That’s not to mention non-invasive forms. While you may not be able to avoid the disease altogether, the numbers show that it certainly doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Early diagnosis, prompt treatment and awareness are all lifesavers.
Aim for Early Detection
While breast cancer can’t be prevented, it can be “tackled” before it spreads…if it’s been detected. This speaks to the importance of:
- Breast Self-Exams – It’s recommended that self-exams be conducted once a month to look for any changes in the breasts. This can be done either in the shower, in front of a mirror or lying in the bed. You should keep an eye out for puckering or dimpling of the skin; discharge from the nipple; lumps; color changes to the skin; areas of tenderness, one breast looking different than the other; or lumps in your armpit area. These things are not always breast cancer, but you should alert your doctor if you do notice any of them, or anything out of the ordinary.
- Mammograms – Unlike self-exams, mammograms can detect breast cancer before there is a noticeable lump or other change. Experts disagree about the exact time for starting mammograms, but it is agreed that at age 50 until age 75, women should have mammograms done every year. Between age 40-50 and after 75, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of doing mammograms. Women with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has had breast cancer should start getting mammograms 10 year prior to when their relative was diagnosed (ie. mother diagnosed with breast cancer at age 44, the patient should start getting annual mammograms at 34 years old). This specialized x-ray allows doctors to identify any suspicious areas in breast tissue. Sometimes, a follow up x-ray or ultrasound may be done to better see potentially suspicious lesions.
- Knowing Your Risk Factors – If you’re aware of potential risk factors, you’ll be more motivated to keep tabs on your breast health. As discussed already, age is a major factor. Family history of cancer, starting menopause after age 55 and never having given birth can also play a role. There is also a breast cancer “risk tool” at which you can fill out and share with your doctor to determine if you should do more to screen for breast cancer.
Identifying and treating this disease at the earliest stage possible can make all the difference. But what if you yourself have not been diagnosed, but know someone who has been? How can you be supportive of them and their fight?
Supporting Those With Breast Cancer
There are many things you can do to show that you’re there for someone who’s battling this illness. That includes:
- Joining or helping them set up their private online support communities. This allows cancer patients to share updates and schedules with close friends and family.
- Be positive. For some, the mental struggle is even more tiring than the physical one. That’s why it’s important to exude positivity. Keep conversations light and not always cancer-focused so that there’s some reprieve from the illness.
- Make small gestures. A card or voicemail message can mean so much to a dear friend or family member that’s ailing.
- Act as a stabilizer. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to offer to do something around the house, help out with young kids, pick up groceries and things of that sort.
- Be respectful and give with no strings attached. Keep in mind that your loved one may be exhausted or in pain at times. Therefore, you wouldn’t want to put burdensome expectations on them. Recognize that they may not always feel up to visits, phone calls and so on. Additionally, when you give, don’t expect anything in return.
- Allow the person to feel what they feel. Don’t make the mistake of saying, “You should feel…” Instead, simply ask, “How are you feeling?” Recognize that there’s a wide range of emotions to be felt when fighting cancer and everyone experiences them differently. Instead of directing as to what a person should be feeling from your point of view, just respect whatever it is they feel.
This is just a glimpse into the many ways you might be able to assist someone with cancer. There’s one additional way, though.