The American Cancer Society suggests that women ages 40 – 44 should have the choice to start their annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. Women ages 45 – 54 are recommended to get mammograms every year, and women 55 and older can either receive them every two years or can continue with the yearly screening.
I was recommended to begin getting mammograms when I turn 25 years old. I have known how to a self-exam to check for breast cancer since I was 18. I am healthy, I have zero family history of breast cancer, and I do not carry either of the BRCA genes that make me more susceptible to the disease. So why am I checking for breast cancer? Because despite the fact that there is no existence of breast cancer in my family, and despite that fact that no one in my family carries the BRCA gene, my mom battled breast cancer anyway.
13 years ago my mom was diagnosed with metaplastic carcinoma, a type of breast cancer that an individual was 0.2% likely to be diagnosed with. A breast cancer that was so rare, doctors were unable to determine what stage it was in. She was young, 100% healthy, fit, and active; cancer wasn't even on the radar.
But why is everyone at risk for something that is so rare? The thing about cancer is all it is is an out-of-control cell growth. Cancer harms the body when altered cells divide uncontrollably to form lumps or masses of tissue, called tumors. Cancerous tumors are made up of the basic building block of all living things. They are created by the thing that makes us human.
So why does the body have the ability to essentially attack itself? We don't know. But cancer is not something you prepare for; it is not something you expect to happen.
About one in eight U.S. women, roughly 12.4%, and about one in 1,000 men will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of his or her lifetime. If I put that in perspective, I live in a house of six college students. If two more individuals are added, there is a likelihood that one of us will develop breast cancer in our lifetime. That is all it takes. Eight people and the statistic is there.
My mom survived breast cancer, and I wouldn't be the woman I am today if she hadn't. I was only 8-years-old when cancer occurred, and it is hard to imagine what life would've been like growing up without a mother. Roughly four years ago, my mom went back to the doctor because she felt some new lumps that had never been there before. Fortunately, they ended up not being a problem, but at that moment when she told me that there were new lumps that had formed, my stomach immediately lept into my throat. As an adult, the idea of cancer becomes more real. As a child, you don't fully understand what is occurring, but as you age, you know that this becomes a life or death situation.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but as human beings, we should always be aware. You should be doing frequent checks on yourself, and you should be going to the doctor if anything is out of the ordinary. The reality of cancer is that it can happen to anyone. You could have multiple cancers in your family medical history, or you could have none. You could be the healthiest and fittest you have ever been, and cancer can still strike you at any moment.
While I am grateful every day that my mother is a survivor, I still know too many young people who have lost their fights. Individuals who I grew up with, who were the same age as me. This story shows that cancer doesn't pick and choose, so don't become another statistic.
Visit the American Cancer Society's website for more information.
All statistics courtesy of the American Cancer Society.