I would guess that everyone has been affected by breast cancer or at least knows someone that has. October is breast cancer awareness month and personally, it holds a very special place in my heart. My family's history with breast cancer stirred my passion for science.
My career goals are to improve cancer medicine and minimize side effects. I am very thankful that my family members survived but they still had to endure difficult and draining treatments. Their lives are forever changed because of this unruly thing we call cancer.
Cancer care is hard on patients and families. I was a little girl when my mom had cancer, but I vividly remember the events surrounding her treatment. My mom and grandma are both so inspiring to me because of the strength they showed and continue to show as breast cancer survivors. Cancer patients are fighters and go through things most people can't even imagine. Their scars are proof of their strength. Their battles are hard and often times long, so remember to support them. Even a small thing like picking up their children from school makes a difference.
In simple terms, cancer is uncontrolled cell growth. Normally, cells grow and replace old or damaged cells as needed. In the case that this process is messed up, cells may continue to form when they are not needed and a tumor may form. If a cancerous tumor breaks apart and travels to a different part of the body, it may form a new tumor.
Cancer cells are like extra greedy weeds. They grow fast and take all the nutrients from their surrounding cells. Your immune system basically works like Round-Up and goes through trying to weaken and kill bad cells. Some cancer cells can disguise themselves so they don't stand out to the immune system.
Cancer generally forms because of changes in our genes which change the way cells functions. Our genes are like an instruction manual that tells your body how to function. When there is a mistake in the genes it's like trying to create an assembly line but taking out the checkpoints. Your whole team is thrown off and mistakes occur. And the more you continue to use this broken process the more mistakes occur. The more times the messed up cells replicate, the bigger the tumor grows. These genetic changes can be caused by a variety of things, from age to environmental toxins.
When I tell people my dream job is working in oncology the number one question I get is "so do you think there is a cure?" This is such a hard question to answer. Ideally yes, I'd love for there to be a cure. But it's not that simple. All of the above things mentioned make cancer a very difficult thing to treat. It is very hard to find treatments that kill cancer cells without causing serious harm to your healthy cells.
No two tumors are the same, so there is no guarantee that a treatment will work for everyone. Every day we are making more groundbreaking discoveries. The life expectancies have drastically improved from what they use to be. Cancer care isn't just about treatment though. It spans from prevention all the way to survivor care.
If you have ever been by someone's side as they endured cancer treatments, you can see how difficult it is. This horrible disease takes children, parents, spouses, friends, and pets. Cancer does not discriminate. But the medical advancements don't either. It is so important to advocate for cancer research because with every step we could be saving someone's life.
"About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12.4%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime."
The earlier cancer is detected, the better the expected outcome. Please educate yourself on detection and prevention. Please do self-breast exams. I promise you, waiting until you are the recommended age to get mammograms isn't enough. Trust in the amazing medical teams we have in this country. And support your amazing survivors. Go to the walks, wear pink in October, send letters to the children's hospital, donate that extra dollar. Work towards making one in eight, none in eight.