Wednesday, October 02, 2002

It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month - get yourself screened!

They tell me that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I don't know where these folks live, but in my corner of the world, breast cancer gets the full-calendar, 12 Month A Year kind of attention. There are so many women in my constellation of friends and acquaintances who have been touched by this disease, that it's become as familiar to me as the common cold. Were only the path of breast cancer as easy to travel.

Until 13 years ago, I'd never known anyone to develop cancer in her mammaries. Back then and outside of the erotic and push-up, I didn't give much thought to my tits. And then I learned about Cathy, my neighbor's daughter: a 30-something beauty who having survived the disease, was at the time I met her, in the throws of a heartbreaking divorce. A nice guy, but he had this really tough time dealing with her disfigurement and all of that chemotherapy business. Whatta guy, huh? With the help of good reconstructive surgery, a supportive family, some counseling, and I gather a prescription for Zoloft, she was back in fine fettle some two years later - just in time to help her older sister come to terms with her diagnosis. Nowadays, we all know women like these gals. Stories like theirs cause us to look at our breasts in a different way. They've become sort of like our personal pair of armed devices, set to go off at any time. It's no wonder that the women I know - Republican, Democrat, Green or Purple - all have an innate calling for nuclear disarmament. We live with that kind of fear every day.

A couple of years after losing the left and the right one, respectively, both women were back under the knife at Sloan-Kettering, each having her remaining breast removed, because it too had been found cancerous. The cycle began anew - loss of job, depression, recovery, reconstructive surgery, and recovery again. If it doesn't kill you, breast cancer will certainly test your mettle.

Another friend, who happens also to be my brave and wonderful boss, knows all about that fear. Susan had her left breast removed some 15 years ago. She relives the pain, and comes face to face with her mortality when each year her annual mammography returns inconclusive results. Thus begin her annual cold sweats - the ones that precede the pushing, the prodding, the exploratory procedures - the ones which thankfully, have for 14 years returned with good news: the lumps they discovered were merely cysts.

To my knowledge, the Breast Cancer Survivor's Club has never been incorporated, but its roster of members is impressive and long. Susan is joined on that list by young and old, by the celebrated and the not-so-well-known, like those two young mothers who live nearby. Last year, both of them discovered their own lumps during breast self-examination and soon began their own course of discovery, anger, acceptance, surgery, treatment and recovery. Fortunately, their husbands and children remained steadfast and supportive.

Breast cancer exacts a great price from the lives it touches. Right now, there is no cure for the disease but research continues through such organizations as The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, founded by cosmetics icon, Evelyn Lauder. Fact is, that until there comes a cure, the best defense we've got is regular breast cancer screening. Breast self-examination is encouraged for all women, but according to the Associated Press, without medical screening, the do-it-yourself method is not likely to save your life. This is not good news for the millions of Americans who are without health coverage in these days of tax break bonanzas for the wealthiest among us, and manufactured war which benefits the military industrial complex and energy interests. If you don't mind my saying so..our priorities as a nation are screwed up.

If you are a woman, or you are someone who loves women, please make sure you know the signs to look for, but most of all...get on into that doctor's office for a breast exam. For more information on breast cancer - information which may help to save yours, or the life of a woman you love, click here.

(cross posted at RuminateThis)

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