I love October. I love Halloween, fall and football. I love that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But I don’t do the pink thing for awareness.
Now before anyone grabs their pitchforks and torches, let me explain. I have immense respect and appreciation for organizations that devote their time and funds to working for a solution and supporting women that are fighting. Awareness and the search for a cure is a worthwhile and necessary effort.
According to the Susan G. Komen website, 1 in 8 women in the United States will receive a diagnosis for breast cancer every year.
As a woman, frightening doesn’t even begin to explain my feelings about the thought of going through that. My family on my mother’s side has a long history of breast and ovarian cancer, each generation of females is affected by one or the other.
Between my family history and the already high 1-in-8 statistic, I’ve generally accepted the fact of my risk for either types as being extremely high. Due to the extensive history of cancer in my family, the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah selected us as topics for a genetic study. I will one day travel there to be tested for mutations in the BRCA genes and be included in their study.
The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, as defined by the National Cancer Institute, are genes that help produce proteins that work as tumor suppressors. Inherited mutations in these genes greatly increase one’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
55 to 65 percent of women that inherit a harmful mutation of the BRCA1 gene will have a cancer diagnosis by the time they reach the age of 70, according to the NCI. 45 percent of women with an inheritance of a harmful BRCA2 mutation will also receive a breast cancer diagnosis by age 70.
In November 2014, my mom decided to get tested at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and, as a result, she received a positive diagnosis for a BRCA mutation. Her chances of being diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer went up to 80 percent.
In order to reduce her risk, in March of 2015, my mom underwent a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and a bilateral prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy. Basically, my mom had both of her breasts and ovaries removed. After her operation, her risk lowered to less than 3 percent.
Being in health care for her entire career, my mother largely advocates for preventative health. The Susan G. Komen foundation and other “pink” groups focus on treatment after receiving a cancer diagnosis, not taking steps to stop cancer before it even happens. The NothingPink organization, through which my mom found support, promotes preventative genetic testing.
I believe being proactive about your health and getting tested is probably the most effective way to stop yourself from being diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer. Knowing your risk allows you to take your life into your own hands. According to NothingPink, early detection is key to survival.
It makes me wonder how things could be different if my grandmother and other women that have or are going through cancer, had been made aware of the steps they could have taken before they began their fight.
As a country, in 2012 the United States ranked ninth in percentage of breast cancer survivors five years after receiving a diagnosis, according to World Cancer Research Fund International.
If we truly want to be a country that prioritizes breast cancer awareness, then I believe we should be promoting preventative health. Women should know there are actions we can take before to understand our risk.
We can act instead of being acted upon.