6 Tips You Need to Know About Breast Cancer – Christina Furnival
There are many pushes for Breast Cancer Awareness these days – campaigns, walks, events that aim to “bring awareness.” Many of these efforts are wonderful in their attempts to raise money to support research to improve treatment outcomes, and hopefully end cancer altogether. I think we can all get behind that.
If I am brutally honest, though, the notion of bringing awareness to cancer itself bothers me.
We are all pretty aware.
Most of us know friends or family who has been blindsided by this brutal disease, and many of us have lost some loved ones to their battle against it.
In just a handful of years, two of my aunts, one of my cousins, one of my friends, the mom of one of my daughter’s friends, and my next-door neighbor have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Three of those women were under 40 years old when they found a lump.
While these special people were the unlucky ones to get cancer, I am happy to share that four of them have been lucky enough to have beat the beast. Bye, Felicia.
I hope you don’t know as many people affected, but I venture to guess that you do.
Awareness of cancer itself? We can check that right off.
But, is there room for awareness of some of the lesser-known facts surrounding cancer? Absolutely.
I’ve learned a lot from my friends and family members and their experience with breast cancer, and I am sharing with you some of their firsthand learnings and advice.
1. Breast cancer can occur in young women, but screenings don’t begin until after 40
My cousin and my friend, who survived cancer, found their lumps in their 30s. Say what? Isn’t cancer supposed to wait until later in life? Apparently, not these days. And not with their type of cancer.
The unfortunate truth is that if you receive a breast cancer diagnosis when you’re not yet 40, the chances are it is a very aggressive form of cancer.
What makes breast cancer harder to diagnose when you’re under 40 is that you are not required yet to have screenings. And insurance is not keen to pay for them before 40 either. While medicine does amazing things, it is also a business, and they don’t want to spend money on assessments that are not necessary for the majority of the population. The percentage of women who get breast cancer at a young age is so low; it’s not worth the system’s time to require exams that early.
No exams and more aggressive forms of cancer equal, not great outcomes, my friends.
2. There are many types of Breast Cancer.
I repeat, there are many types of breast cancer — each with their prognosis and treatment protocol.
There are breast cancer tumors that are fueled by some combination of hormones (progesterone, estrogen, and/or HER2). Cancer of the hormonal variety is the most common, has the most funding, and has had lots of research to decrease mortality rates.
And there has been success! Thanks to the hard work of many scientists and medical teams, the diagnosis of hormonal breast cancer are not always the death sentence it used to be.
Triple-Negative is different. The trio of hormones is not responsible — ergo, it is tripley negative. It occurs in only about 15% of breast cancers, and has a higher mortality rate, partially due to its high recurrence rate.
Because this type of breast cancer is not as common, there is less research on it.
3. Not all cancer awareness organizations are the same.
Why is that important?
Because I am willing to bet that if you are donating money to a research organization, you want your money to actually go into research.
There are some well-known and well-marketed organizations that, to quote my survivor goddess friend, “are out there profiting from a disease that still kills over 40,000 American women every year.”
So what should you do?
She urges you to investigate the organizations to which you are donating. Before you hand over your hard-earned money, find out if “that pink ribbon or that tee-shirt really does anything to advance care.”
One organization that I know she supports is Young Survival Coalition (YSC). They aim to aid young women with breast cancer through networking, education/information sharing, and advocacy. They were very important during her treatment and provided her with support and friendship.
4. Take charge of your health.
Has your doctor given you a breast exam before? Did they raise your arm over your head?
If that’s how they did it, or how you’ve been shown to do it, that’s actually not correct.
When raising your arm, some of your breast tissue falls into the armpit, making it harder to palpate a lump. And note that breast tissue is not contained neatly in your perky breast, but it surrounds it and goes above as well as into your armpit.
So what’s the correct way to do a breast exam?
Standing, keep your arm loosely down and press into your breast in circular motions moving around all your breast tissue, including your armpit, under your nipple, and up to your collarbone. Tumors are usually hard, painless, unevenly shaped, and immovable, but not always.
The often recommended time in your cycle to do a breast self-exam is three to five days after the start of your period, when you may not be as tender.
5. What to do if you find a lump
If you think you have found a lump, call your doctor ASAP. Do not wait just because you aren’t sure if it’s worth bringing up. And don’t wait until your insurance says they will cover your mammogram.
Maybe the lump is nothing. But maybe it is something. You need it checked out.
If you think something’s wrong, speak up, speak up, speak up.
That said if your doctor says you do not have cancer, but something still seems off, request a second opinion or push for more testing.
My cousin, just 30 years old and less than one year into motherhood, felt a lump during nursing sessions with her son. She spoke up and had it looked at. The medical professionals she saw thought it was just a fluid-filled cyst, but they tested the fluid to be sure. They ruled out cancer because the fluid was benign, but she felt something was not right. She had it drained a few more times before she pushed for a biopsy of the sac itself.
You guessed it: cancer.
By the time she found out she had cancer, it had already spread to her lymph nodes. She was diagnosed at Stage 3. THREE.
She is now cancer-free, thank goodness. But her story sits with me.
Advocate for yourself. Seek second opinions. Push for what you need. You just may be right. If she had not been outspoken and assertive, they might have found the cancer too late.
6. How to support a friend or loved one with cancer
The most important thing you can do is connect with your loved one, often. Call, text, meet with them and let them know you love them and are there for them.
It can be uncomfortable or awkward at first, but it will get easier with time to just sit with them. And remember, sometimes you may need to say nothing — just be there with them.
If you live nearby, you can offer to accompany them to their treatments. Nobody wants to face cancer at all, and definitely not alone. Being with them during treatments may mean the world to them and give them added strength to keep fighting.
You could bring them food, or set up a meal train. You could clean their house, take care of their kids for an afternoon, or walk their dog. You could bring over a funny movie. There are so many things you could do.
If you aren’t nearby or aren’t able to visit, send cards (once a month is a nice way to show love continuously) or message a funny meme that will make them smile.
Send a loving gift like a cozy, machine-washable blanket to use during chemo infusions, comfy lounge clothes, a bracelet with encouraging words inscribed, some cute headcovers and scarves, or a lighthearted (non-cancer-related) book to read to help take their mind off of everything.
You could use a meal delivery service to drop off their favorite food. You could send a care package.
Again, there is so much you can do to show that you love them and are there for them.
While most people are aware of breast cancer, they may not be aware of this information. I hope it has been as helpful to you as it has been for me. If it would be beneficial to anyone, you know, send it along!
And now, it seems fitting to sign off from this post with the same words used by my friend in every one of her cancer update newsletters:
“Love you. Fuck cancer.”
About the Author
Christina Furnival lives at home in sunny San Diego, California, with her hottie hubby, three-year-old daughter, and one-year-old son. Christina is a licensed mental health therapist (LPCC), a sometimes super-star Mom, and the creator of the Motherhood and Lifestyle blog Real Life Mama. In her spare time (what’s that?), she can be found singing her heart out at full volume, cooking up new meals, and dreaming about crafting. See what she’s up to on Facebook and Instagram too!