Speed Bumps and Road Blocks

speedBumpYesterday I was filling out a medical form for a massage through the Massage Therapy Program, and I had to list past surgeries. Quickly, I listed two knee surgeries andĀ bariatric surgery, and continued with the form.

The student therapist led me to her space and proceeded with the massage. We were half way through when she asked me about a scar I have near my shoulder: “Does that hurt if I rub on your scar?” It didn’t, but I was suddenly reminded of the lumpectomy, the removal of six lymph nodes, and the placement of a port for chemotherapy administration—all surgeries I had forgotten to mention on the form.

As I lay there, I wondered how I had forgotten—cancer was a major event in my life. During chemo, I tried to see it as a hiccup in my life—a speed bump, but it felt like a total disruption. It felt more like a road block. It took strength to get through the days, and there were some difficult days, and I remember the difficult days: the pain, the fatigue, the bad dreams, the terror of having cancer return. These were days when I wanted to give up.

Now, as I think back, it was a speed bump, and it did exactly what a speed bump is designed for: it slowed me down. It forced me to look at my health and make some changes. In the end, the experience impacted me more positively than negatively, and it’s those positive experiences I remember most.

I remember the people who rallied around me at work and helped me get through the tough days by letting me cry on their shoulder.

I remember my husband who held my hand during every treatment and held me close when I needed comfort.

I remember my family who called regularly to check on me and encourage me to keep fighting.

billboardI remember the community that rallied around me, helping with fundraising and wanting my image for the Sheridan Memorial billboard.

I remember the support group that listened when all I could feel was self-pity.

I remember the nurses and the support staff at the Welch Cancer Center who saw me at my worst and still smiled, welcomed me, and treated me not as a patient, but as a human being.

Jennifer helped me get through chemo

Jennifer helped me get through chemo

All of these people, and those I have met since, are the real heroes, not me. I might have survived without those people, but not with grace, and certainly not with the positive experiences I have left in my heart after that little speed bump.

Incidentally, today is World Cancer Day. The purpose of World Cancer Day is to raise awareness of the facts of cancer and to dispel the myths. On a personal note, I would also like to encourage you to hug a survivor today. You make the difference in a cancer survivor’s life.

~ Keri

Re-Think Pink

Sheridan's Recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month

Sheridan’s Recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month

This is the last week of October, and as most of you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. This is represented by the color pink. Pink ribbons are everywhere in Sheridan, and pink seems an appropriate color for breast cancer awareness. It is, after all, a color that our society associates with the female gender. However, what many people forget is that breast cancer affects men, too.

According to U.S. Breast CancerĀ statistics, approximately 2,240 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2013. That does not sound like much, and in fact, it is less than the 232,340 new cases diagnosed in women. However, it is still a possibility.

Recently, the husband of a colleague and friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a breast cancer survivor, I can relate to the horror he feels and the uncertainty that comes with treatment. Luckily, they caught it early and his prognosis is good. But that doesn’t detract from the pain he has already endured and what is to come. Within days, he has undergone a mammogram and a double mastectomy. His future holds chemo and radiation and months of uncertainty.

Like my family, his family has a history of breast cancer. Like my family, breast cancer invaded not just the females in his family, but a male, too. Like me, he found the lump on his own by doing breast self-examinations. Like me, this may have saved his life.

In November 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force published a report recommending “against teaching breast self-examination (BSE).” In fact, they argue that “there is moderate or high certainty that the service has no net benefit” and they recommend that physicians “discourage the use of this service.”

I found my lump in February, 2010: 5 months after a mammogram. My next mammogram was scheduled for September, 2010. I was diagnosed with Stage III Cancer in June 2010–it had spread to the lymph nodes already. If I had followed the advice of this Task Force, how far would the cancer have metastasized before it was found via mammogram?

My uncle had breast cancer, and he was not lucky. It metastasized and eventually killed him. He did not practice self-examination. Would that have saved him? I don’t know. If my friend had not done self examination, how long would it have been before a diagnosis? Granted a man’s risk is 1 in 1,000 in his lifetime. Those are low odds, but what if you were that 1? Wouldn’t you want to catch it early?

Everyone–not just women, but men, too–need to know how to recognize their risks of breast cancer and they need to know how to practice breast self-examination. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, do self-examinations. Have a mammogram. Know your body. Recognize changes, and demand care if you’re getting the run-around. You are responsible for your health, and sometimes that means going against expert advice.

For more on breast self-examination, visit the National Breast Cancer Organization Website.

~ K