October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and is a time that many focus on raising awareness of the disease. This is the time of year that we are reminded to learn the steps or refresh our understanding of breast cancer. There have been many exciting advancements in the detection and the treatment of breast cancer and the recommendations seem to always be changing.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among American women. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women age 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor about when to schedule a mammogram. Women age 50 to 74 years old should have a screening mammogram every other year. Women age 75 and older should talk with their doctor about continued screening. Getting mammograms early can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. Be sure to check your health insurance company to see if a mammogram is covered because many plans have recently changed their policies on this.

About one in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Men can also be affected with breast cancer as 2,350 men will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year. With numbers like that it seems like everyone knows someone with the disease. Fortunately, thanks to the advancement of new treatments, many are getting a second chance on life that would have been hopeless years ago. Many are now living years beyond what was ever thought possible. So many survivors are now able to share “success stories” with others to encourage those who may be newly diagnosed with the disease. One such story is that of a woman named Michelle from Henderson. Here is her story:

October. Orange Pumpkins, Brown Leaves and Yellow Moons. October turned pink for me in 2003. You see, pink is the Breast Cancer color and October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. After getting diagnosed with Breast Cancer, October will always be pink. Pink bracelets, pink tic-tacs, and the ever popular pink packaging on EVERYTHING in the grocery stores. 

I was diagnosed with Stage 3B HER 2 positive Breast Cancer that year. October was just starting to turn Pink that year. The color Pink sold millions of extra dollars of merchandise, and also brought millions of dollars for Breast Cancer research. Some of this money might have funded the clinical trial that I was in. When I was diagnosed, HER 2 positive cancer was in the spot light. It is a very aggressive kind of cancer that usually is diagnosed in the later stages and affects younger women. The type of Breast Cancer will determine the chemotherapy for treatment. Hormone positive Breast Cancer is a type of cancer that is Estrogen or progesterone driven. This type of cancer will include a treatment of an Estrogen blocker like Tamoxifen. Another type of Breast Cancer is HER 2 (human epidermal growth factor). This is the type that I had. I was fortunate enough to be diagnosed in the year a very large clinical trial was being done to test a new medication called Herceptin. This drug was a “targeted therapy” approach to cancer. Herceptin targets and prevents the growth of the HER2 protein on the cancer cell. This acts like a “switch” to turn off the cancer growth. The exciting part about this drug was that is doesn’t affect your good cells. Your hair grows back when taking this drug. It still had to be given through a vein, but it was revolutionary. I was accepted in the trial later in 2003. There were 3 groups of the clinical trial. Two groups included receiving Herceptin, one did not. This was not a blind trial so you would know what group you were in. I had a 66% chance of receiving “Hope”. You see, I had very little hope at this point. After getting the news that 44 of my lymph nodes had cancer in them, hope was not given to me. I was actually told by 3 cancer doctors to get my affairs in order. I was told that I might see my then 14 year old graduate from High School but not my then 9 year old. I also had a 4 year old at home that I pictured never seeing off to Kindergarten. I prayed to God that I would be one of the lucky 66%. I imagined how I could get my hands on the new “Hope” drug if I wasn’t picked. I’ll never forget the call when they told me I was picked to receive Herceptin. Eventually all trial participants received Herceptin due to the incredible results of the trial data. “Hope” finally entered my dismal life. Could I, would I, survive such an aggressive cancer that had already gotten to so many lymph nodes. I had a new found strength that I never knew I had. Herceptin is now standard treatment for anyone that has the HER2 protein on their cancer. 

So “Pink” October means several things to me. A reminder that Breast Cancer will forever be a part of me, and October is a good reminder for all women to get their Mammograms as directed by their health care provider. And as far as High School graduations go, my baby is a senior and will graduate from Heartland School next May.

If you would like to know more about breast cancer, mammograms, or have any other questions, please contact Four Corners Health Department, (402)362-2621, 2101 N. Lincoln Ave, York, NE 68467. www.fourcorners.ne.gov.