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why breast cancer awareness month matters

Why Breast Cancer Awareness Month Matters Deeply to Me

Why Breast Cancer Awareness Month matters to me is a personal story. It is also because breast cancer is common. Everyone will be touched by someone who has breast cancer, now, in the past or in the future. This is a common disease and the warning signs need to be something everyone knows about. 

BRCA breast cancer survivor's storyMy Personal Cancer Story and Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I am a breast cancer survivor in the middle of the five-year, “wait and watch” nail-biter to see if I am cured. The cancer I had was aggressive. It was the high-grade, triple negative type that got looks of sympathy and sighs of relief from the other women in my breast cancer support group. This is the one I attended during The Cancer Year. It was 12 months of chemo and surgeries that became my full-time job.

This was after getting the cancer diagnosis and the test result that revealed I had lived 55 years with the BRCA gene mutation that now brought me cancer.

I had Two Rare, Separate Tumors – One in Each Breast

Even with inherited cancer, I somehow could not be “normal.” I had two, separate tumors of this high-grade monster, one in each breast. It meant I was on uncharted territory, even for my doctors, as they tried to give me some comfort from statistics.

I sought out greater experience with BRCA cancer expertise from the best cancer doctors at Stanford and the University of California at San Francisco. And even they couldn’t spin the bad news about the chemo and surgeries into good news about statistics for survival because having two tumors was too rare. However, they all agreed that an aggressive approach was required.

Now, I’m in the five-year window where we find out if treatments I had during The Cancer Year worked. If I make it one more year, they will pronounce me “cured” of the high-grade monster. I'm almost there, and yet, October brings tears close to the surface... even typing this sentence.

Cancer changed so much in my life. Most importantly, it changed how I look at life.

breast cancer survivor dermatololgist dr. cynthia baileyCancer cost me the Pollyanna optimism that lived behind every thought and decision I made during my 55 years. I had this up until August 2014 when I read the mammogram with the technician and saw the tumor in my left breast.

Optimism combined with hard work and good choices let me believe that, somehow, life would go the way I wanted it to and that I would not be that 1 in 8 women who gets breast cancer. In the pink mammogram suite, there were speckles of calcium flecking a grayish-white denser haze in the otherwise darker gray shadow of my left breast. I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she finally sees the man behind the curtain.

When I found out I had breast cancer, the illusion of magic control over life dropped away.

That same optimism is what had my day planned as a mad rush before seeing patients at 1:00 p.m. that afternoon. The mammogram appointment was efficiently scheduled before a DMV appointment for the mandatory update of my driver’s license photo. I was dressed up for the photo because this was going to be the first ever GOOD driver’s license photo in all my 40 years of having one. That photo has red eyes because I cried all the way to the DMV and at the DMV. They gave me a bottle of water and were really kind to me. They probably don't even know that I'm still alive.

Remembering the events of that day – and The Cancer Year – bring tears to dampen my eyes, even typing this post.

So much has changed in one year:

  • Deconstructed/reconstructed breasts sit on my chest.
  • Chemo side-effects turned nimble surgeon’s fingers into stiff and clumsy hands.
  • A second menopause thanks to removal of my high-risk ovaries and tubes to previve ovarian cancer.

Yes, even after menopause, the removal of my ovaries has left me with double the fun and double the post-menopausal consequences of being a hormone-free woman. 

The Cancer Year has replaced my prior relentless energy with necessary afternoon naps and a lifetime of Pollyanna optimism that drove manic productivity with a new way of deciding how I spend my time. I'm basically kinder to myself. - Cancer Survivor Dr. Cynthia Bailey

There have been new beginnings brought to me by cancer. My life is different. I rest (because I have to), I pace myself better (because I have to), I don’t work non-stop with my hands doing surgery anymore (because I’m one of the 40+% of breast cancer chemo patients who got nerve damage from chemo), and I really understand now that life is temporary – and precious – even for me. My daughter says, “and you also seem to be more at peace than before.” She called to chat as I was writing this post.

Yes, I am more at peace… even in October during Breast Cancer Awareness month when the wounds from The Cancer Year are still fresh.

Now, when September ends and I see 10/1 on my computer screen, I pause. I feel tears tinge my eyes, and I think about what I've got planned for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the ongoing fight we all share against breast cancer.

We are all touched by breast cancer.

  • 1 in 8 of the women reading this will get it.
  • This year, over 300,000 women and 2500 men will be diagnosed in the U.S.

Hopefully, they will all then go on to join the over 3.5 million of us who are breast cancer survivors. However, 41,000 of us will not survive 2017. These numbers are just in the U.S. I am sure every person reading this post personally knows someone touched by breast cancer, including some that did not survive.

donate to fight breast cancerJoin us in the fight during 2017 Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is an important month for breast cancer. Nationally, the major health advocacy focus is on the fight against this all too common disease.

This month, my team and I support the fight, and I invite you to join us in one of two simple ways we have created:

1. Buy my Chemotherapy Skin Care Kit and I will send all the profits to FORCE, the non-profit cancer advocacy organization for the hereditary breast and ovarian cancer community (BRCA mutation and other genetic mutations that increase a person's risk of these aggressive cancers).

2. Make a small donation to our team that walks in the Making Strides event for The American Cancer Society’s programs directed at breast cancer. Click here if you would like to donate to our team.

Why donate to the hereditary breast and ovarian cancer advocacy organization FORCE?

Supporting FORCE supports every person at risk for any cancer because those of us with a cancer gene mutation are the ideal group for cancer researchers to study. My lifetime cancer risk was 87% for breast and 40% for ovarian. What’s learned from us helps everyone. Funding of FORCE is important for more than the hereditary cancer community. 

dermatologist's chemotherapy skin care kitSend my Chemotherapy Skin Care Kit to friends and loved ones undergoing chemo, and you give them comfort. And the check I send FORCE every month gets bigger and bigger. We are in this fight together. Click here to learn about the Chemo Skin Care Kit and donate to FORCE.

Know that I developed this for my own skin while on chemo…

Dermatologist as lab rat grows the perfect skincare routine to prevent chemo-related skin problems, helps other chemo patients and funds cancer advocacy and research... It’s all good that came from bad.

Thank you for reading to my story. Hopefully, I will have added to your understanding of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We all want to help others who are fighting to survive this common form of cancer.