As a Breast Cancer survivor myself, I’m passionate about keeping women aware of the advantages of regular screening and early detection. Since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, every year at this time I’ve raised my voice in support of the recommendations for mammography, which is generally effective in discovering a cancer. Identifying breast cancer while the tumor is still small allows for earlier treatment, likely leading to a better quality of life.
The current emphasis by physicians is on targeted treatment with individualized precision, based on the tumor characteristics as well as personal patient choice. When Angelina Jolie went public with her decision about how she chose to address her genetic predispositions, public awareness of breast cancer went up 20%. Some women elect to pursue an aggressive approach, others follow more traditional treatment, and some even question doing anything other than active surveillance. The discussions about these choices – among patients as well as the medical community – can lead to research and gathering better evidence in the future. For example, there are now over a dozen genetic tests to determine whether and what kind of chemotherapy to use with a specific patient.
So, given the reality of individual differences, are there any strategies that all women can employ – during October and all year? Here are a few coping tools that I have spoken of in greater detail over past years:
Take care of yourself. You’ll feel better and lessen your risk factors for many diseases by increasing your exercise schedule, limiting your alcohol consumption, stopping smoking and paying attention to eating a healthy diet.
Communicate your feelings. Understand that, as with any life-defining event, you will experience a complex set of emotions. When you acknowledge that this is normal, it will be easier to cope by expressing your reactions to people you trust.
Accept support. Turn to friends and family for encouragement and help in a challenging time. You may need to ask directly for exactly what you need but knowing that there are loved ones to sustain you will bring comfort – and lower your stress level.
All of the pink that is in fashion this month highlights the importance of breast cancer awareness. It also celebrates the unity of women surviving the disease, each in her own way. So add a pink ribbon to your outfit today and be sure to have a mammogram.