One in eight women will develop breast cancer. It is the second leading cause of death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer – about one out of 36, according to the American Cancer Society.
Dr. Timothy Moore
Women have a right to fear breast cancer and the devastating effects it has on the body. If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you naturally assume the worse – life is over. And it’s hard to image anything else. But did you know that 2.6 million women are surviving breast cancer in the United States?
I can remember hearing those chilling words like it was yesterday when my mother called to tell me that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. That was more than 20 years ago when I received the call late one Sunday night. “I have breast cancer and I’m having a mastectomy in a few days,” she shared with me.
I didn’t know what to say or do after my mother dropped that bomb on me. But after regaining my composure, I asked how long had she known about the cancer and why she waited so long to tell me about it. She said this: “I was afraid for myself and not knowing how long I had to live.”
Fear is one of the reasons why some African-American women don’t seek immediate breast cancer screening. But check this out: “African-American women face a lower risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to Caucasian-American women, yet they paradoxically face an increased breast cancer mortality hazard,” said Lisa A. Newman, M.D. M.P.H., F.A/C.S., associate professor of surgery and director of the University of Michigan Breast Care Center.
Breast cancer screening is a very important tool used to detect the disease before and after symptoms appear. If there is abnormal tissue, immediate treatment will help to expedite the healing process so those women who fear the inevitable can breathe a sigh of relief.
A support group is also good for camaraderie. Gwendolyn Brown, who organized the Carin’ and Sharin’ Breast Cancer Education and Support Group in 1989, said women who suffer from breast cancer are “truly forgotten and need a voice.”
“I started Carin’ and Sharin’ because there is nothing else around for underserved women,” said Brown, an oncology social worker and patient advocate. “There are other support groups, but they don’t cater to the inner city, socio-economically disadvantaged minority woman.”
There is an education component to the support group that makes all the difference in the world, said Brown, adding that breast cancer screening is the key to survival. “It’s not enough to tell somebody that they need this done. You have to tell them why and then dispel the myths. You have to explain it without fear, in a loving way, and be very compassionate about it.”
For women who fear dying from breast cancer, Brown said those women who suffer from breast cancer have other health problems to be concerned about.
“Sometimes breast cancer doesn’t take them from this world. A lot of times, it’s diabetes, a lack of exercise, and a need to drop those pounds that will take them out of this world,” she said.
Breast cancer has touched the lives of women of all ethnic groups. However, while the death rate for African-American women is 32 percent higher than their Caucasian-American women counterparts, there is still hope, if the disease is caught in time.
There are two types of tumors: benign and malignant. Benign tumors are not cancerous, because the cells are normal and do not pose a threat to life. They can usually be surgically removed or treated with drugs. Cells from benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. Once treated, they usually don’t come back.
Malignant tumors are cancerous. These mutated cells divide without control or order, and they can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Also, cancer cells can break away from a malignant tumor and enter the bloodstream or the lymphatic system, forming new tumors in other organs.
There are many effective strategies that can help reduce your risk for breast cancer. One is to know the factors that can contribute to the disease. Of course, lifestyle and diet are among the biggest factors that determine your risk for breast cancer.
“I see too many women who’re suffering,” Brown said. “I want the suffering to stop.”