In October 1985, the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutic division of Imperial Chemical Industries (now AstraZeneca) founded Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Since then, many countries around the world mark this month's focus on the awareness, early detection, and treatment of breast cancer.
Many notable programs to support various breast cancer charities have been
created and have become part of our everyday life. From the Susan G. Komen
Foundation® to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and even your local eatery,
all have created promotions to raise money to fight breast cancer. We have all
seen the pink ribbons, the walkathons, and the bumper stickers. But how much do
we pay attention to the fight when it is not personal?
As a married man, I never really paid much attention to breast cancer other than to occasionally ask my wife about her yearly mammogram and sometimes purchasing a tee-shirt... until August.
During a routine, yearly mammogram, the radiologist found a small mass in my mother's breast.
Before I go any further, I want you to know that I have asked my mother's permission to write about this, and since it's purpose is to educate and bring awareness; she approved of me writing this.
The first step to diagnose the mass was to have a sonogram to get a clearer picture due to dense breast tissue. After the sonogram, my mother's physician recommended a biopsy. After much prayer and anxiety, the biopsy revealed a 6mm cancerous tumor. Having survived two different types of cancer myself, I thought I knew, if not the road she would travel, at least the general direction her treatment would take. I could not have been so wrong.
Our first visit was to the oncologist. After a lengthy discussion about the different types of cells that cause breast cancer (I had never even thought about this), the oncologist began asking questions about our family tree. At the end of creating this sketch of our family, he then asked us if we had ever heard of BRCA1 or BRCA2. He then started speaking about genetic mutations and how they play into breast cancer diagnoses and treatment (Genetic Mutations? I thought those were reserved for Marvel X-Men movies.) These genetic mutations are hereditary but not automatically passed to a child if a parent has one. So after a simple blood test for the mutations, we left his office unsure and uneasy about what lay ahead.
Our next visit was with an oncological surgeon who spoke to us about our surgical options. He was unequivocal that his recommendation would depend on the result of the genetic testing. When, a week or so later, we received confirmation that my mother had tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation, the surgeon's recommendation was for a double mastectomy and removal of the lymph nodes. For those who have never heard of this mutation, this radical surgery was recommended because her chances of breast cancer reoccurring were significantly higher because of the mutation.
Along the way, we met with a plastic surgeon whom we discussed reconstruction. As an older woman, I did not realize that my mother would consider this, but during the consultation, I learned that for many women, this decision is not about vanity, but about self-image.
Once we had all of our physician consultations, we as a family decided to have a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, and with follow-up chemotherapy and hormone therapy.
I am thrilled to say that after her surgery, my mother is now cancer-free and recovering well. Her journey is still not over, but we are on a better path than when we started.
Ladies, please accept my apologies for being ignorant about this disease. Please know that I have had my eyes opened, and I am amazed at the strength and support of the breast cancer community.
This part if for the men who have read this far. Breast cancer affects all of us. The women in our lives are more at risk for this cancer, but it will change your life. Encourage the women in your life to have their yearly mammograms. Don't just buy a t-shirt with a funny slogan, get active, be diligent, and mostly, hold those you love close to your heart.
One last note, remember the genetic mutation, BRCA2?
My BRCA2 test came back positive for the mutation. As a man, that means that I am at a higher risk for prostate cancer and breast cancer. Thankfully, prostate cancer is a battle I fought a few years ago and won.