The month of October is one I truly enjoy. The cool, crispness in the air, the scent of warm apples and cinnamon, the vibrant color that seems to explode overnight, and the simple fact that it is time for my annual mammogram.
OK, so you got me! I am not overly thrilled to have my mammogram done. Once you have had breast cancer, as have I, it does make the annual or semiannual check up a bit of a nail biter. But here is the thing, I go to a wonderful hospital in a town I love: Peterborough, to have it done each year now. For years before, I made the long trek to Boston, and before that to NYC to have my mammograms and check ups. The advantage to Sloan-Kettering in NYC was results were the same day. A wonderful thing for many, especially those among us who want this immediacy to help move on and do what needs to be done. Boston was not the same day, but they were very quick and efficient.
Peterborough is a small town in the heart of the Monadnock region of NH. Breathtakingly beautiful views as you drive here of mountains and autumn splendor all around. The town is very laid back and art/culture inspired. Wonderful restaurants, shops, museums, art galleries, cafes, and places to sit and just pause are everywhere here. It is a true gem and an place that happens to house my favorite bookstore on the planet: ToadStool!
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, 15 years ago, the first place I went for inspiration was the Toadstool Bookshop. I loved the aromas from the cafe there, that tuck in around you as you browse making you feel warm and safe. Even the books smell particularly delicious! (Yes. In case you are wondering, I do sometimes judge a book by its smell!)
I stood in the self help, inspiration and nature sections of this delightful bookstore and let my hand and heart draw me to the books, not my overthinking and overloaded brain. In the nature area I discovered a book called “Inner Gardening: Four Seasons of Cultivating the Soil and the Spirit” This book made my heart sing and still does to this day! Next, I moved more cautiously toward the section filled with books about breast cancer. I was much more cautious here, as I did not want to read stories of battles won and lost with cancer. You see, everyone’s journey is uniquely different. I wanted to find inspiration, and find it I did, in a little book called “Hope is Contagious: The Breast Cancer Survival Handbook by Margit Esser Porter who oddly enough, lives in Peterborough!
This book was my light thru the darkness and kept me smiling, and hopeful, through out my journey. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer years after me, I gifted the book to her, so it could lighten her journey as well. The book is so inspirational and I have passed it on to many others. In fact, I am not even sure if I have it anymore…..but, the hope it gave me rang loud and clear, and will never leave me. It might dim now and again, but its always there!
Breast Cancer Awareness month is mislabeled….it should be Breast Health Awareness Month. I don’t think it is a month to focus on cancer so much as the prevention and eradication of this disease. It is a time to tell ALL women to be proactive in your health care. Get mammograms and don’t be lulled into a false sense of security about your odds of being diagnosed. So many women I talk to think they have no risk since no one in their family had been diagnosed with breast cancer. But this is a misleading sense of security.
Here is a blurb about your risk factor from Breast Cancer.org: “Absolute risk also can be stated as a percentage. When we say that 1 in 8 women in the United States, or 12%, will develop breast cancer over the course of a lifetime, we are talking about absolute risk. On average, an individual woman has a 1-in-8 chance of developing breast cancer over an 80-year lifespan.”
Now, here is the part where SO many women still get very confused: If you have a history of breast cancer in the family your risk goes up considerably, …..but if you have no history, as I did too, you STILL are at risk……you are not risk free. Keep in mind, I ate healthy, kayaked, walked daily, practiced yoga and meditation, seldom drank, was non smoking and was a healthy weight and size…..and I was one of the eight women.
Let me repeat: having no history of breast cancer does not mean you are RISK FREE! Don’t make that mistake. My breast cancer was caught SO early I did not require radiation or chemotherapy. It was microscopic and DCIS. My decision to have a mastectomy was MY CHOICE and one I have never regretted to this day!
So, here is my take away this month to you all: do not put off those mammograms and be lulled into a false sense of security. Have one done. If your breasts are particularly painful and cystic, have one done. If you have large, dense breasts, have one done. And if you are putting it off out of fear, remember this: the EARLIER you catch it, the better your statistics are for treatment and recurrence.
Breast Health Awareness…..October.