October is breast cancer awareness month and this year, it is estimated that over one million women world wide will be diagnosed with breast cancer. It is second only to lung cancer as the most diagnosed form of cancer and is one of the leading causes of death among women, second to heart disease. Over the past few years, Jamaica has seen an ever increasing number of women who are diagnosed with this devastating affliction. Unfortunately, due to lack of information and poor access to proper medical care, a large percentage of women are diagnosed in the late stages in the progression of disease, when chances of survival become very slim.
The Jamaican Cancer Society has been on a crusade to educate women on the means of prevention and early detection of breast cancer. Due to lack of information and poor access to proper medical care, most women on the Island are not aware of how to perform a proper monthly self breast examination and do not receive yearly mammograms. “Awareness is the key to gaining any type of leverage on this disease and lot of women on the island have a lot a basic misconceptions about breast cancer, they really need to educate themselves on the subject…,” states a representative of the Jamaican Cancer Society. The National Breast Cancer Foundation estimates that if detected early, the five year survival rate increases to 95%, yet the numbers for the percentage of women in Jamaica over the age of 40 who receives a yearly mammogram, remains alarmingly low. “…All women need to make it their business to find out how to do a monthly self breast exam and have yearly mammograms…” says Dr. Arvind Kumar, a board certified oncology specialist in Edison, New Jersey. “What some women do not understand, is that it is imperative that they get to know their own breast. That is the only way to detect any subtle changes in the breast tissue.”
It is paramount that we as women arm ourselves with the knowledge and understanding and out aside our fears about being diagnosed. A lot of the women that I questioned about the subject felt as though they were either to busy with a full work load and family life, to get themselves checked. One acquaintance remarked that she had to worry about putting food on the table, and therefore she did not have time for the “the whole breast thing”. Another stated that breast cancer did not run in her family so she did not have anything to be concerned about. In both cases nothing could be further from the truth. This is definitely a subject where ignorance can be extremely detrimental. I urge all women to find out how to perform a proper monthly self exam. Sit down with your doctor and discuss the subject as it relates to you. There are a plethora of organizations such as The Jamaica Cancer Society, The National Breast Cancer Foundation and the Susan B. Komen Foundation, to name a few, that will provide a slew of information; from how to perform examination, to support groups for those who are diagnosed. Knowledge is the key to making breast cancer “a thing of the past”.
Three years ago, I lost my mother to breast cancer. Although she had been previously vigilant with regards to having a yearly mammogram, it just so happened that that particular time, instead of going for the mammogram at the twelve month mark, she let her appointment lapse six additional months, until she found a lump during her self breast exam and decided to have it examined by her physician. Within less than a year, she was gone; she was only 53 years old. Nothing can describe the ache that remains in my heart at the loss of my Mom. I have spent many sleepless nights asking my self what might have happened had she not missed that appointment. A few weeks or months might actually have saved her life. Remember to stay on top of your health because as my grandmother always said, “When you body breaks down, you cannot trade it in for an upgrade”.
This article is dedicated to the memory of my beautiful mother and best friend, Dawn (Diva Dawn) Mitchell, all the women who have passed away and all the women who are still involved with the courageous battle against breast cancer.