I lost my mother 27 years ago to breast cancer. She battled it twice, and lost the last fight. I was 20 years old when she died. To this day there are people in my life that do not know this.
In 1976-1980 the odds for five-year relative survival from breast cancer were 59 percent. My mother skewed that statistic when she celebrated her first win over the cancer. A single mastectomy bought her five more years. But then the cancer came back. Her remaining breast and chest tissue were the battleground.
She and my father took her fight to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She received a central line and ongoing chemotherapy. My father became her main caregiver while off the campus. In the midst of trying to maintain some normalcy, my father learned how to flush the line and observe it for signs of trouble. After 15 months of ongoing chemo, her body gave out, and we said our goodbyes.
I tell you this not so that you can feel bad for me. Life is like that. We deal with what we have been given. But the part of this that I want to impress upon you is that we didn’t talk about this. Not to anyone outside our family. Not even very often out loud to each other. In the early 80s breast cancer was a secret, almost as if there was some shame involved in the diagnosis. After her passing, I very seldom mentioned the cancer to anyone.
Fast forward to 2013. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Founded in 1985, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities every October to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. NBCAM offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer. The main aim of the NBCAM from the start has been to promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer. The movement uses pink as its promotion color and encourages folks to “Get Their Pink On” during October.
Because of NBCAM, the topic of breast cancer is out on the table. Women can talk about their diagnosis, their treatment, and all of the repercussions a diagnosis like this brings into their lives. Their families can share their struggles, their worries and their joys with others. We can wear pink, and join fundraising walks; and most importantly, we can talk about breast cancer. Out loud.
If my mother’s cancer had waited until 2005 to attack, her five-year relative survival rate would have been 85 percent. More important, she would have known more about the disease. She would have been having regular mammograms. She would have known that a complete mastectomy after her initial diagnosis could have increased her odds for survival. She would have been able to talk about it. And wear pink. (She looked great in pink.)
I wear pink in October. I wear pink so that women know about breast cancer. I wear pink for the next family that breast cancer threatens. I wear pink for my mother, and for my children. Please join me.
(Julianne LaSmith works in marketing and public relations at Northern Montana Health Care.)